This may seem an inconvenient truth to some, but whichever way you look at it, knowing the right people is fundamental to making your way in the world today. You don’t need to be a master spy – building an intricate web of contacts stretching across every city, but some basic networking skills can go a long way, whatever your profession may be.
Many make the mistake of leaving it too late, believing that networking only becomes important once you start down your chosen career path. But as Heather Krasna – director of career services at the University of Washington’s Evans School of Public Affairs, puts it: “the concept is to plant the seeds before you need to harvest them”.
As such, the search for networking opportunities should begin as soon as a student leaves school, if not earlier. Many universities make a point of educating students on the importance of pursuing networking opportunities, and ensuring that such opportunities are readily available on-campus.
Here are a few tips for students looking to improve their networking skills.
Know Your Goals
It’s important to have a clear idea of your purpose for seeking out contacts. Networking can achieve a number of goals, whether it be acquiring a new job, advancing your current career, or if you’ve recently relocated; assisting you in adapting to a new environment.
Know Your Options
Friends, previous employers, professors, classmates and business associates all offer invaluable opportunities for networking. Write down a list of your options and approach them for advice. Be sure to ask them if they can suggest any other names to add to the list.
Bear in mind that many companies rely heavily on internal referrals. They actively encourage their workers to recommend new employees to them, and are more likely to consider those recommendations.
Don’t underestimate the power of social media. Organizations are incorporating social media services such as LinkedIn into their recruitment efforts, and LinkedIn in turn continues to implement features that make it more accessible to students. Devoting some of the time you’d usually spend socializing on Facebook to building a LinkedIn profile can be of significant benefit to your career prospects.
As mentioned, universities and colleges are doing much to promote networking opportunities for their students, so keep a look out for any on-campus events that are being organized for that purpose. But be sure to keep track of events occurring elsewhere too. If you become too dependent on academic facilities, you might end up isolating yourself from the professional landscape. Find out if there are any conferences being held nearby, where there might be people who can offer valuable insight into your chosen field.
Make telephone calls or arrange meetings wherever possible. They grant you the chance to make a stronger impression then if you communicated solely by email or social media.
Make certain your own information is in order, so you can answer any questions your contacts may have regarding your interests, skills, qualifications and goals. Have a clear idea of what questions you intend to ask them.
Be proactive when you describe your situation. Focus on your goals and how you intend to achieve them, rather then the obstacles preventing you from doing so. Emphasize how your skills might enable you to advance the cause of a particular organization, rather then how they might qualify you to fill a specific position that has recently been vacated. You might give interested parties a reason to recruit you that they themselves didn’t think of.
Staying in touch with your contacts and following up on any meetings or phone calls is essential. Not only does it help to keep your valuable network intact, it also demonstrates persistence and diligence – vital qualities that are sure to stand you in good stead when an opportunity finally does present itself.