When recent graduates are faced with the question, “What’s something that you know now that you wish you knew during college?” more often than not the response is along the lines of knowing the importance of networking during school or simply wishing that they were able to build a larger network. Once students are out of the academic setting and plunged into the workforce, finding a job right away can feel extremely overwhelming. In some cases, it can also feel like employers care more about who you know and less about what you know. Let’s face it, the six-figure salary job your friend has, wasn’t obtained by just applying to a single position. It usually starts by knowing someone, who introduces them to an opportunity, that introduces them to more people, who introduce them to other opportunities, and so on and so forth. This creates a chain of connections or in other words, a network. While the main goal of college is to graduate, the relationships you form along the way can be just as important as receiving that degree.
What is networking?
Merriam-Webster defines networking as the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions. Specifically: the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business. Honestly, networking is one of the most powerful and effective career-building tools there are. Well over 40 percent of jobs are landed through good networking. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with applying to positions virtually, some companies simply put more value on a word-of-mouth recommendation by someone they trust over a formal application. In cases like these, it is beneficial to have as many people in your corner as possible.
When and how to start networking
Typically we start to pave out our careers upon entering college, so this would be the ideal time to mould relationships that support it. Needless to say, socialization is a must, which may be hard for my fellow introverts, but in the end putting yourself in a brief moment of discomfort will be extremely beneficial in the future. Friends, professors, advisors, tutors, mentors, etc. no one is off-limits. Also, networking never has to be as tense as giving a 30-second elevator pitch to everyone you meet. There is so much opportunity just by being in a casual social setting. The point is to just get out there! So, whether you’re just entering college, just leaving, or well into the workforce here are some key ways to easily build or rebuild your network.
Networking during university
- Clubs and Organizations. Joining an organization is a great way to make friends and also a great way to spearhead your network. It forces you into a space with like-minded people who enjoy the same things that you do. Those same people may even have larger connections to other like-minded individuals. Also, why stop at one? Joining multiple clubs and organizations not only diversifies your skill set, but it puts you in direct contact with a diverse set of individuals and opportunities.
- Attend campus events. Many campuses have career fairs where it’s easy to connect with people who are directly involved with your field of interest. Here, companies will have booths where you can go and introduce yourself, ask questions, and gain a little bit more information about what you’re interested in. Although career fairs can be a bit intimidating, don’t be dismayed if you are not particularly work-ready. A career fair is also a great place to find a field of interest even when you’re still making up your mind. Think of it as a mall of opportunities where you can easily get connected and browse your interests
- Visit the Career Counsellor. Visiting an on-campus counsellor, for any affair, is a great way to get in contact with the right people. Career counsellors specifically can help you sort out your interests, skills, and abilities. Moreover, they can also help with learning how to job hunt, interview prep, write resumes, and craft cover letters. Once those things are sorted they can also plunge you in the right direction of your career by connecting you to others who are already far in the workforce. Making an appointment with a career counsellor is a great way to get guidance and gain connections to other sources.
Networking after graduation
- Maintain Connections. One of the hardest things to do once out of college is to maintain the relationships made during school. Therefore, it is important to take inventory of the relationships that are important to you and continue to nurture them. This goes for both personal and business relationships. Sometimes they go hand in hand and sometimes they are separate.
- Reconnect. If there is one thing that people love, it is being thought of. Reconnecting with a simple email of concern is a good way of reopening dialogue with someone in a formal way. When doing this it is important to be genuine. So asking for a work reference right away from someone you haven’t heard from in four years may not be the right way to start. Therefore, asking about them and telling them a bit of what you’ve been up to is a great way to ease back into dialogue. With that being said, the sooner done, the better. For more casual interactions texting and direct messaging can have the same effect.
- Use socials. Social media is a great (and almost necessary) tool for networking and self-marketing. The best part about it is you’re the one in control. You have the freedom to brand yourself however you want and also have the freedom to promote yourself to whoever you wish. Some platforms even make it easy by providing the option for a business account. Maybe you don’t have a personal business up and running, but setting up a business account in addition to your regular social media can easily show potential employers your professional interests and if they align with what they are looking for.
Having said all of this don’t forget that your network is a living thing and should always be evolving, even after finding that dream job. Also, remember that it’s never too late to start building or rebuilding a network of connections. It just takes a bit of social effort. Consistency is the key!