The concept of networking is often misunderstood and the task itself can be daunting for students and recent graduates. But the reality is that it is never too early for students to start networking, especially if they (and you as parents) really want to secure a job BEFORE graduation or soon thereafter. So what is networking, anyway? We know that the vast majority of job openings are never advertised but are filled by word of mouth. That is why networking is the best way to find a job. Unfortunately, many job seekers are hesitant to take advantage of networking because they’re afraid of being seen as self-serving, pushy or “using others.” But networking isn’t about using other people or aggressively promoting yourself – it is about building relationships. And a great way to build professional relations PRIOR to job searching is to participate in informational interviewing/job shadowing opportunities.
Although Spring Break is known for a week of fun in the sun, it can also yield opportunities to participate in an informational interviewing/job shadowing, or to volunteer with an organization that will help build your student’s network with professionals. And spring break is a great time to reach out to family members who may be professionally helpful.
Students have to get to know people in the career field in which they want to work. According to university career services professionals, the idea is to plant the seeds before your student needs to harvest them.
So how should college students go about making new connections and getting the most out of them when they have a full load of courses, are involved to the max with campus activities, and are balancing a full social schedule?
Here are 6 tips for networking while still in college (adapted from an article by Heather Krasna, University of Washington, published in the Education section of US News and World Report):
- Play the student card: Alumni and other contacts are more likely to want to help you while you’re still a student, especially if you ask for an informational interview of job shadowing opportunity. There is less pressure because you are seeking advice, and not looking for a full-time job (which is why this must happen way before graduation). Grow those relationships while there is no pressure, so those contacts will want to help you when you begin your search for full-time employment and make the transition out of college.
- Use your parent’s friends and your friends’ parents as resources: They’ve got decades of experience and are probably willing to share their expertise with you, and maybe even their contacts. Students tend to overlook their own parents’ friends and the parents of their friends when it comes to networking. But these people are often well connected or know people who are.
- Get off campus: The isolation of some college campuses may foster learning, but when it comes to networking, students can get ahead by getting off campus. Emily Bennington helps college graduates transition into careers through her company, Professional Studio 365. She suggests that students investigate conferences in their field. Ms. Bennington says “rather than using your savings for a spring break in Daytona, go to a conference within your industry and use social media strategically about six to eight weeks in advance of your landing at that conference to reach out to people who will be attending.”
- Use LinkedIn: Too many students make the mistake of thinking they can avoid LinkedIn until after college, but the smart move is to use it now to track the network you’re building. LinkedIn has made it easy for college students to get the hang of this powerful social media network. If you still have trouble getting into the LinkedIn habit, try spending half the time you’d normally spend on other social media sites on LinkedIn instead. Also, schedule an appointment with a Career Advisor for individual assistance in leveraging LinkedIn to your advantage.
- Get an internship: This is the most obvious option, but it can’t be overstated. The value of an internship is tremendous, both in terms of skills and contacts. Employers often hire full-time workers from their internship pool, which means having an internship puts you ahead of other job seekers. In addition to giving you real-life experience to put on your résumé, an internship puts you in eyesight of people who work in your field of choice, which means they’re more likely to think of you when job opportunities arise.
- Follow-Up Promptly: When you meet people whom you admire professionally, perhaps at a HPU-sponsored event, at a wedding reception, or a family function, follow-up with them promptly. Send a professional email, a well-written note (yes, mailed with a stamp!), or send them a personalized connection request on LinkedIn. Keep the connection “warm” by periodically reaching out to touch base (and not just when you need a favor).
The Career Advisors in Career & Internship Services are aware of various professional networking events on campus and within the community and are happy to share information with your student. We want HPU students to take advantage of every opportunity that will enhance networking skills and build their “bank” of contacts. To use as a general guide, here is a list of networking questions that can be used in most settings:
- What has been your career path? How did you choose this career field?
- Why did you decide to work for this organization?
- What is your educational background? If you were a college student again, knowing what you know now, what would you do differently?
- How did you prepare for this kind of work?
- How does your organization distinguish itself from other organizations doing similar work?
- How would you describe your organization’s culture?
- What advice do you have for someone who wants to start out in the field?
- What do you look for in employees? In resumes and cover letters?
- What do you find most enjoyable about your position?
- What do you find most challenging about your position?
- What courses or educational background would be most relevant for a job in your field?
- Which skills have you found most helpful and which ones will be most important in the future?
- What professional organizations, journals, or other resources would you recommend?
- Where do you see the industry going in the next few years? What changes have you seen so far?
- What kind of experiences (paid employment or other) would you most strongly recommend?
- Who else would you suggest I speak with? When I call, do I have permission to mention that you referred me to talk with them?
Please encourage your student to review the general career resources on our website and to reach out directly to a Career Advisor for an appointment. Students may also make an appointment by completing this form.