For most college graduates the first order of business after admiring their diploma is to get a job. Moreover, as the article above indicates, having a degree gives them a significant advantage for winning one. But what many young people don’t realize is that in addition to a formal education, attending college offers them another career enhancing benefit: the opportunity to build a strong professional network.
Here’s a statistic that proves the point. According to a recent Monster College survey, 78 percent of job-seeker respondents who were recent college graduates, said networking was a factor in their job searches. And no wonder, since most experts agree that up to 85% of all new jobs are found through networking.
Unfortunately, sometimes students wait until after graduation to start developing their network. This can be challenging, especially for introverts who may not connect with their peers outside of class. Here are six tips on how to build a strong professional network while you’re still in school:
- Use your current position as a student to build professional connections.
Most successful professionals are not only willing to share advice, they are eager to. They understand how challenging starting out can be and often enjoy mentoring younger people. Moreover, because you’re still in school, they can give you advice without the pressure of feeling they have to offer you a job.
Make it a point to follow up with professionals who visit your class, give a talk at your school or perhaps are teaching as an adjunct instructor. Ask their advice about an appropriate project you’re working on in class. Or to tell you what they enjoy most about their job. Or to share how they got started in their own career. Ask if you can keep in touch with them via email or perhaps LinkedIn messages. Then do so every month or so with short but information-rich messages about your progress at school. Forward on links to business articles that you think may be of interest to them. Keep track of their careers and send congratulatory notes on a promotion or their business winning a new account. The point is, to cultivate people in your profession who have shown they like dealing with younger people and are willing to help them. Small gestures like the ones described above can turn professional contacts into personal friends. And nothing is as powerful in the world as a personal friendship with an industry leader. Now is the time to start.
Your professors, school administrators, fellow students and their parents should all be in your network.
Networking into a job usually involves several steps. First, there is connecting with people you already know including relatives, neighbors and friends. Then there are the people they know who may be connected to someone who can hire you or introduce you to someone who can hire you. Getting the addresses, phone numbers, email addresses and, above all, the good will of these people is the first step on this journey.
Make it a point to connect with as many people at school as you can via Facebook, LinkedIn and cell phone. Write down their names, how to reach them and the basis of your current relationship. For instance, are you in a class with them or on the same sports team? Alternatively, do you just hang out together in the same student lounge? A year from now, if you want to reconnect to ask them a question about a job this information can be invaluable.
As a student, studying is your job and the classroom is your office. Therefore, after graduation, professors and deans make great references for your first employer. Of course, they should be people who were impressed by your work as a student and with whom you’re still in touch. Although they’re now in Academia, presumably, they are also active in the profession you want to pursue and may have connections that they can share.
Join a professional organization.
Many of professional associations have student chapters offering discounted fees and special activities to help introduce students into the profession. This is often a great way to meet a mentor, not to mention, a future employer. If you can, work on becoming a leader in this organization. It will be an impressive addition to your resume and mark you as someone who is smart, knowledgeable and committed to being a successful professional.
Expand your network online through LinkedIn and Twitter.
A LinkedIn profile is every bit as important as having a hard copy resume. In fact, it may be even more valuable since employers regularly search LinkedIn for job candidates. If you don’t have a complete LinkedIn profile, work on it now and update it frequently. Invite your fellow students, professors, any employers you may have while you’re still in school and everyone else in your network to “link in” with you to build your contact list. However, don’t invite people just for the sake of boosting your number of contacts. Invite people you know you want to stay in touch with and whom you would be willing to help if they reached out to you (see tip #6).
Get an internship.
Of all the things you can do to develop your career while you’re still in school, interning for a company in your chosen profession is undoubtedly the most useful. It will give you a sense of how things work in real life, not just in the textbook and immediately put you in a position to audition for a future job with the company you’re working for. As with your class mates and professors, use LinkedIn to stay in touch with the people you meet, work for and work with.
Remember, networking is as much about helping others as it is about being helped by them.
At EALgreen we are great believers in paying it forward. We try to help others just as we are ourselves have been helped. This is the foundation of our organization and should always be the basis of a strong professional network. You can practice this in several ways such as volunteer to work for a charity, to coach other students who may need help in a course you’re a whiz at, to take an active role in student government or a political campaign for a candidate you believe in. All of these activities will not only expand your world and your network, but your perspective of the world. And, after all, isn’t that the ultimate benefit of a college education?