Networking for College Students and Recent Grads

by Sharon Elber

New Grad Networking

Networking is critical for professionals whether they are seeking to find a new job to take their career to the next level or looking for their first job or internship after college. If you are getting ready to graduate, or if you have already hit the job market with your new degree in hand, having a strong network can make a big difference.

Here are some tips to help you transition from social networking with your friends to professional networking designed to enhance your career options:

Social Media for Professional Networking

While you may be very familiar with social networking to build and communicate with your peers, finding out about local events, and sharing the personal aspects of your busy life, social media can also be a powerful tool for building your professional network in preparation for post college life. However, there are a few things to keep in mind if you want to make the most of this powerful tool.

Manage Your Networks

Most professionals take the time to clean up their profiles and timelines on all of their social media platforms. However, it is standard to choose certain platforms for developing your personal brand and professional image, such as LinkedIn. Meanwhile, consider using privacy options to keep your personal sites, such as Facebook, limited to friends.

Relationship Building

Having a lot of connections doesn’t necessarily translate into having a well developed professional network. The value of each contact is only as strong as the relationship you have with that person. It is important that you make an effort to stay current on your professional networks by commenting on other people’s posts, reaching out to start a conversation, reposting interesting articles, or creating your own unique content.

In marketing terms, what you are trying to do is to boost the overall level of engagement that you have with other members of your network. This will translate into additional visibility, naturally growing your professional network over time. When the time comes to leverage your contacts, your odds of getting a positive response to a question or request (such as a job referral) will be greatly increased if you have done advance work cultivating the relationship beyond a mere connection.

Identify and Participate in Industry Related Groups

One of the best ways to meet people in your field beyond your immediate geographical surroundings is to use social media tools to find others working in your field through groups. Look for the professional organizations, large employers in your sector, and social groups organized around skills (such as a certain language for computer programmers).

Not only will participating in these groups help to keep you on top of trends in your field, it will also expose you to emerging job opportunities and the people best positioned to help you grow in your career.

Put Yourself Out There

Making the most of online social networking requires that you are willing to put yourself out there. You will need to get comfortable approaching someone about a connection, sharing your resume, inquiring about job leads, or simply asking for career advice.

Consider setting a weekly goal to identify and reach out to 5 or more new people each week in order to start growing your network so it will be there for you after graduation when you are looking for your first job or want to land that killer internship.

Post About Your Professional Achievements

Sure, it might seem like bragging, but posting about your professional accomplishments is a great way to keep yourself visible in the feeds of your connections while demonstrating your skills, passion, and ambition. Consider it a quick advertisement – include a great photo and some very brief text describing your big win.

Showing Up in Person

While you can develop a strong online presence and professional network using online tools, it is also important to get out there and build some relationships in real life. These kinds of relationships tend to be stronger and more memorable. As such, they can offer more leverage when comes time to be notified of a potential job opening or getting an insider referral to your dream job.

Stand Out in Class

When it comes to in person relationship building in college, be sure to get noticed in the classes that are core to your major or special areas of interest. Ask informed questions, contribute regularly, and take advantage of your professor’s office hours to show a genuine interest in the field. Consider asking about opportunities to help with research or special projects as well.

Your professors can be extremely valuable in helping you land your first job, providing a recommendation for your grad school application, or even finding out about an internship opportunity. However, if you are a wallflower in the classroom, they are unlikely to be able to speak to your strengths, enthusiasm, or character.

Career Fairs

Most college universities offer career fairs so that soon to be graduates can meet with the recruiters from the large employers in their sector. They are valuable opportunities to get to know the very people who are seeking the best and brightest talent in your discipline.

Bring a one page version of your resume that includes a head shot, your best achievements, and a sense of your strongest interests and related qualifications. In addition, come ready with some salient questions to ask the reps at the job fair as well as a few conversation starters that demonstrate your knowledge of industry trends.

Arrange an Informational Interview

Many professionals who are advanced in their career are open to helping those who are just getting started. If you can identify some people in your locality who are doing the kind of work that you would like to do one day, try reaching out to arrange a coffee meeting or phone conversation, also known as the informational interview.

You may gain insights on strategies that have worked for them, ask them about the potential for mentorship, learn more about the day to day work they do, or get advice on your resume. You may be surprised how open people are to this kind of meeting and the potential leads it may generate down the road.

Get Involved in Your Community

Whether you are still in college or a recent graduate, look for opportunities to show up and get involved. Take on leadership roles where you can and make a genuine effort to make friends with people who share common professional interests. Volunteer work, social organizations, and churches are all excellent examples of places to get plugged in to your community that can help you build your professional network through in person relationship building.

Follow Up

It is important to make the most of the connections you make in person by following up on your professional social media sites so you can establish a means of ongoing communication. While you may have passed out your business card, hopefully you also collected your share and kept a few notes on the conversations you had. Reach out to connect and include a reference to your meeting so that you can refresh their memory and remind them of your shared interests.

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