TIMELINES, TOOLS & TIPS FOR MAKING VALUABLE CONTACTS IN COLLEGE
College is home to countless opportunities, both personal and professional. One of the most exciting aspects is meeting a wide variety of individuals, all with their own strengths, goals, dreams and circles of influence. Learning to reach out to everyone with the belief that each person has something of value to offer is the basic underpinning of networking – and it should begin the day a student sets foot on campus.
According to an annual survey by Right Management, well over 40 percent of jobs are landed through good networking. This guide focuses on not just the importance of networking, but offers actionable ways to build a wide circle of contacts, places to begin the networking journey and how to make good use of those contacts when the time comes.
NETWORKING BY THE YEAR
Networking begins the moment a student walks onto the campus. From greeting that new roommate to saying hello to the academic advisor, each new interaction offers a wealth of possibility. Here’s what you can do to cultivate that long list of contacts, starting with the first day.
This is when building contacts begins, and there it’s never too early to start. Some of the most influential people met this year will be integral to the college experience for the next four years, as they will watch you grow and change over that time. Here’s how to start cultivating those connections.
Set networking goals for each semesterHaving a clear goal in mind can make a long road seem much more manageable. Choose personal goals for networking that go all the way up to the senior year and possibly beyond. This might be as simple as how many people you will meet each year or what clubs you will join.
Work on your people skillsStriking up a conversation with a stranger doesn’t come naturally to everyone. This year, make a point of stepping out of the comfort zone and becoming more extroverted. Rehearse how you will say hello and have a few talking points in mind.
Don’t pick and chooseNow is the time to network with everyone and anyone. Don’t narrow down the options – a lot can change in four years, including dreams, goals and career plans. Now is the time to spread a very wide net and catch a huge variety of contacts.
Consider a fraternity or sororityGreek organizations are often tight-knit, and wind up creating a sisterhood or brotherhood that lasts a lifetime. Fellow members are often willing and able to lend a hand when college is over and the career begins.
Be curiousEveryone has an interesting story to tell. Ask about their ambitions, their family, where they come from and where they are going. View networking as a powerful tool for a future career – but also as a way to make friends with some of those contacts.
The awkward freshman year is over and now college students have settled into a routine. They are also more prepared to consider what they might want to do in the future, which means networking becomes much more targeted. Here are networking plans to make for the second year.
Get out thereGetting face time with your network is extremely important. Not only is it much easier to remember someone who has actually smiled at you and shaken your hand, it forms a more intimate connection that could be quite important one day.
Meet one new person each dayMake a point of saying hello to one new person each day. This deceptively simple practice not only builds your contacts naturally, but it serves as a nice way to show you are interested in the community around you. It’s also great work on those people skills mentioned earlier.
Become more active in clubsNow is the time to start showing up more often at club meetings, choosing clubs that are more closely related to a particular major, or joining groups that will offer a boost to future goals, such as a group for young professionals on campus.
Look for internshipsWorking for a company that fits the ultimate career goal is something to strive for right now, as it will provide ample opportunity to network with those in the business. Student placement services can be a huge help with this step.
Consider informational interviewsAlso known as an informational conversation, these are meetings with potential employers, mentors or other professionals who can provide a wealth of information on their professional life. Conducting information interviews allows a student to learn more about the field they want to pursue while networking.
Now that the major is chosen, it’s time to add more network contacts that pertain to your future goals. Professors, advisors, mentors and internships are all going to take center stage this year. Here’s how to move forward.
Evaluate what you’ve done so farTake a hard look at how networking has gone so far. Did you meet your goals? Where were a few places that fell short? What could be improved? Revise your game plan and move forward.
Develop a strong resumeThough networking might be the best way to land a great job, the resume matters, too. Take the time this year to work with the student placement office in creating a resume that will properly reflect your strengths.
Take your search onlineDon’t forget that networking can happen online, too. Now is a great time to create that LinkedIn profile, cultivate a twitter and Facebook presence, and otherwise use social media to build a good reputation.
Step up the informational interviewingTarget those companies and businesses that matter most to the job search and interview a variety of individuals at several levels. Ask intelligent questions and be sure to keep in touch afterward with a thank-you note.
Create a networking cardMake it easy for others to find your information with a networking card. Much like a business card, this will have your email address, phone number, and any other contact information that might be helpful to others.
Now is the time to put the networking from the past three years to good use. This year students will start seriously looking for a job within their chosen profession, and all of those contacts can come into play to help make that happen. Here’s how to move forward.
Touch base with all your contactsAt this point it’s time to get in touch with everyone you have networked with over the last several years. From a simple hello via email to a “can we meet for lunch” catch-up request, you should be quite busy with reaching out.
Get matched with a mentorIf you’re lucky, you have already found someone who truly wants to help you. If not, speak to your student services department about mentor-matching services they might offer.
Narrow down your employment optionsStart looking seriously at the companies you want to work for and make a point of getting in touch with your contacts there. Make your desire to work there very clear.
Join professional organizationsGet involved with organizations that represent your chosen profession, including national associations and local branches. If they have networking opportunities, make a point of engaging in those.
Dive into the working worldIf all goes well, by now you will have a degree in hand and a job lined up. No job yet? Step up your networking efforts while you look.
CAMPUS AND COMMUNITY COLLEGE NETWORKING RESOURCES
According to a 2011 NPR report, up to 80 percent of jobs aren’t published or advertised – most people are hired through personal connections. In order to up your chances of landing that job, keep these resources in mind:
CAMPUS AND COMMUNITY COLLEGE NETWORKING RESOURCES
ALUMNI ORGANIZATIONS These organizations are full of those who have ‘been there, done that’ and are now probably well-established in their careers. They remember their old college fondly and remember the excitement of that first job. Due to this, some of the best networking happens through alumni organizations.
ACADEMIC ADVISORS Though their primary job is to ensure you get the proper credits and classes for graduation, academic advisors might also make great networking partners, in that they can help you find internships, put you in classes that you might not have considered and otherwise introduce you to movers and shakers in academics that can help you succeed.
VOLUNTEER WORK Dive into volunteering, whether on your college campus or in the greater community. Though this might be in an area that fits your eventual career goals, volunteering anywhere help is needed can be a great way to get to know those in the local area.
FRATERNITIES AND SORORITIES These Greek organizations can be powerhouses of networking opportunity. Choose one carefully, however – some fraternities or sororities are all about drinking and partying, which doesn’t bode well for the student who wants to build serious contacts.
MENTORS A mentor is someone who knows the ropes and can guide you through what you need to know, put in a good word for you with certain businesses or organizations, and be available to answer question and address concerns. Mentors might come along naturally through networking, or they might be matched with you through a college program.
PROFESSIONAL ORGANIZATIONS Many organizations for professionals also have a division for those who are students in the field. Joining those organizations early can give you access to special networking opportunities that could be the ticket to a great position in your chosen profession.
CLUBS AND SOCIETIES There are numerous societies and clubs on any college campus, so it should be relatively easy to find at least a few that suit your needs and eventual career goals. Clubs that interest you are always worth a second look.
THE COLLEGE NETWORKING TOOLBOX
When it comes to doing anything properly, starting out with a good toolbox is a necessity. The networking toolbox is constantly being honed and perfected, starting in college – or even before – and continuing throughout a lifetime. Here’s what students need to tuck into their toolbox in order to succeed with a wide circle of useful contacts.
Unlike a typical interview, where a potential employee is applying for a particular job, the informational interview flips the script: the potential employee interviews someone from the business. This might seem awkward at first, but it is actually a very well-known networking tool that allows students to find out more about potential jobs while meeting those who might be able to help them land those jobs.
Informational interviews can start at any point during the college years, but it is usually best to wait until you are certain of a potential career path or major, so as to make the best connections and not waste time – yours or theirs. You want to interview those who are working at the level at which you want to work; for instance, if you want to work in management, you should speak to a manager at a business in your chosen field.
You can often find great leads through family and friends, but you might also turn to the college career counselor, student placement services or human resources at a particular company to get the interview set up. In the case of family and friends, introductions could be made in person. For others, a formal letter requesting an interview is a great way to make a good first impression.
Expect to spend 20 to 30 minutes asking all kinds of questions. Here are a few to get started:
What is your typical day like?
What are some of the most difficult or frustrating parts of this career?
Beyond the expected education, what kind of training does the job require?
What particular courses should I focus on to prepare me for a job like this?
How is the profession changing?
Preparing for the interview should be done with as much care as if you were interviewing for the job. Here’s how to prepare for this very important meeting.
Professional attire is a must. Dress as though you were actually going to work at the place where you will be interviewing.
Always be professional
The basic rules apply: shake hands, smile, don’t chew gum, don’t make offensive comments, listen to what the other person has to say, and the like.
Ask intelligent questions
Create a list before your interview of questions that will give you a great deal of information and open the lines of discussion. Avoid ‘yes or no’ questions.
In addition to being professional, strive to be warm and open with the interviewee. You want to build a rapport if possible.
Say thank you
Not just when you leave, but later, when you send a nice thank-you letter to the person you interviewed. This little gesture goes a long way.
To learn more about informational interviews, visit these following resources:
Informational Interviewing (BLS)
This article from the Bureau of Labor Statistics includes everything students need to know, start to finish, about conducting the best informational interviews.
Imagine throwing a rock into a pond. The ripples begin at the middle, where the rock hit, and spread out to eventually touch all parts of the shore. The water and shore were influenced by the rock that changed the shape of the pond.
In networking, a sphere of influence is much the same as that rock in a pond. The idea is to use that ripple effect to reach more contacts, all the while reminding them that you have influence. What is influence? It is a leadership skill that helps you effect change in the lives of others, including their actions, beliefs and choices.
There are many people who have caught you in the ripples of their influence. This includes parents, siblings, extended family, friends, teachers, colleagues, and many more. On the college level, the sphere of influence has included professors, administrators, advisors, alumni, and others who have crossed paths during the years.
Your sphere of influence reaches out and touches others, too. You might influence those who have influenced you; you might also send your ‘ripples’ out to new contacts, showing them that you are valuable to them. Expanding that sphere of influence is a valuable tool that can help you not only make more contacts, but expand your esteem within your networking circles.
Curious as to how to expand your sphere of influence? These resources can help.
I Take the Lead
This site is dedicated to helping business owners grow their presence. Some of their advice focuses on networking, including obtaining a strong sphere of influence.
This helpful site focuses on internships, as well as other networking opportunities; blog posts delve into certain aspects of networking, including sphere of influence.
The elevator pitch is a very quick, concise and memorable speech. Imagine you run into the CEO of a company in an elevator, and you have only the short amount of time between floors to introduce yourself – that’s an elevator speech.
Creating this speech can be tough, as you have to incorporate a great deal of information within a very short time frame. Besides that, the speech must be memorable enough that you stand out among all the other people who have tried the exact same thing.
There are three key elements to the elevator speech. The first is the time limit. The second is to pinpoint the skills that will best suit the organization and incorporate mention of those into the speech. The third is to offer what you can do for them, or explain what you would like to do in the company.
Here’s an example:
“Hello! My name is _________. I’m currently a student at _________, as well as the head supervisor of the student financial aid division, where I oversee student loan applications. It’s my first step into what I anticipate will be a very successful financial career. I’m looking for suggestions on how to improve my opportunities in the financial sector, so that I can eventually move into rewarding work with non-profits.”
And here’s another:
“I am currently studying communications at ___________. I have a knack for making complex issues quite easy to understand, whether it’s through speaking or the written word. I love the challenge of working in teams and thrive on tight deadlines. I’m inspired by working with those of varied cultures and backgrounds, which is why I would love to work with an international organization. I’m looking for a position that will allow me to use my strong communication skills to reach out to those in other cultures.”
Want to learn more? These places can help you plan your speech.
This reputable career site offers a wealth of information a variety of networking issues, including building the perfect elevator speech.
Consider how you appear to the world, what people think the moment they meet you, and the first thing that crosses someone’s mind when they think of you. The way you present yourself to the world is your personal brand – and it can be cultivated, monitored, manipulated and even destroyed.
By the time you reach college, your personal brand is already out there. Simply type your name and hometown into a search engine and if you have ever been a member of a social media site, a list of your achievements, forum posts, blogs, and other information is likely to come up on the first page. The idea is to control your personal brand so that it reflects only what you want it to say.
You Control Your Brand
Start by being clear about who you are and what you want. Make sure all your social media platforms reflect who you are. For instance, a very professional LinkedIn profile can be quickly undermined by a not-so-clean Twitter feed. If you truly want to wrest control of your brand from the internet, play the game by creating your own website. Use it to create a vivid picture of who you really are.
Keep in mind that who you associate with can affect your brand. You want to align yourself with movers and shakers, reputable companies, honored colleagues, and excellent educational opportunities. Each can elevate your brand beyond what you could achieve on your own.
But beware: A brand can be destroyed with the click of a mouse. Always be careful of what you post online. In person, stay friendly and professional at all times. Never do something that you might regret, as it could eventually find its way around, whether through word of mouth or online.
Here are more resources to help you understand and cultivate your personal brand.
This magazine is dedicated to all the things that up-and-coming professionals need to know, including how to make your personal brand stand out among all the others out there.
Harvard Business Review
What if your personal brand changes? This informative article focuses on handling transformation in the right way.
In a world where technology is making everything move faster and texting is now the norm rather than the exception, never underestimate the value of a truly personal connection. This can be achieved through face time (not to be confused with the Face Time app on your iPhone), or simply being in the same room with your contacts. Say hello, shake hands, look them in the eye, and catch up – these courtesies still carry an enormous amount of weight, especially in a time when life can seem to move too fast.
Can’t be in a room with that networking circle? Old-fashioned phone calls work, too. Rather than send that text or email, simply pick up the phone to invite a contact to lunch, say “thank you” for a good deed or compliment them on their latest achievement. It doesn’t have to be lengthy; a few minutes is plenty to check in, catch up and remind them that you are paying attention.
Here are some resources that can help with face time and other in-person networking moments.
Becca Garvin is an Executive Recruiter for FGP LLC. Here she offers some valuable advice on how to effectively network in college.
What are some of the most important points college students should remember about networking?
Networking in college requires an emphasis on bridging generational gaps by communicating the value someone of their age can offer (which is a great deal most than many business owners understand) in a way that is seen as professional, therefore understood and received by older generations.
Due to today’s society being so unique, largely in how social media completely dominates marketing and therefore has a huge impact on business success, college students in this day and age have a tremendous skillset to offer future employers: the understanding and abilities that come naturally to them because they have grown up with the trends that are dictating much of what happens in numerous facets of society including business.
That being said, presentation and informative, proactive communication is huge. One stigma attached to college student these days is lack of effort; an entitlement factor is assumed. If students can proactively overcome this and pair it with informative communication tailored to the level of those they are trying to reach, they can open doors much faster than one might expect.
Is LinkedIn really as important as it seems?
LinkedIn is the ultimate networking tool without a shadow of a doubt. This is going off on a rabbit trail so feel free to redirect me if I did not answer that correctly, but having a LinkedIn profile that is professional and informative (tailored to the jobs and industries you want to work in) is so huge in today’s job market. That is the first thing I will look at when searching for people or checking them out after they apply for a role.
Today’s students tend to prefer texting over other forms of communication — so just how important is the old-fashioned phone call?
Texting is certainly the preferred method of communication for students today and is becoming more and more popular for people throughout the business world. Let’s be honest, it is quicker than e-mailing and certainly faster than a phone call and much more convenient than both. That being said, the fact remains that there ARE still many people, especially older generations, who find this method of communication to be less professional.
More importantly, phone calls are not only 100 percent necessary, the ability to carry on a conversation on the phone is just as important if not more so than in-person. Depending on the situation, your initial conversation with a hiring manager is likely going to be on the phone. Coming from someone who interviews people all day, I usually do not discredit a candidate based on a pause prior to answering a question I ask, but I certainly do based on “word vomit.” Remember that facial expressions are not visible over the phone, so it is very important that your words make up for lack of appearance because people will create an image of you in their minds based on what they hear.
By far the most important advice I would give someone coming out of school in regards to texting (or communication in general, especially written) is something that I was clueless about when I first graduated college. IF someone opens the “texting” door, you need to watch your verbiage, language and punctuation. This is critical. Texting your friends and family or even someone you know extremely well is different – much different – than communicating with someone professionally.
SOCIAL MEDIA: USING IT FOR NETWORKING
The Pew Research Center reports that 65 percent of Americans use social media in some form today, up from a measly 7 percent back in 2005. A whopping 90 percent of young adults are using social media every day. That translates into an enormous amount of networking potential for any college student and aspiring professional.
Much more than a simple way to communicate with friends, social media has become a powerful tool for scoring an interview, landing the perfect job, and building a huge array of contacts. Here are some of the most popular and important social media platforms for networking.
Out of the vast array of social media platforms, LinkedIn is by far the most valuable for professionals. It allows users to upload their resume, showcase their latest work, offer a run-down of their best talents, and even keeps a running list of those who recommend users for certain skills and expertise. But according to a 2013 Millennial Branding survey, almost half of all college students have never used LinkedIn at all – they are missing a very valuable networking tool.
Information travels very quickly when it’s 140 characters or less. Those tiny snippets of conversation are the power of twitter, a networking tool that can help students reach out to prominent and influential people in their field, follow those who offer intense and interesting discussion on pertinent topics, and allow for quick connections with concise, succinct language. Students can showcase their personality, follow companies of interest and look for job openings.
Who hasn’t heard about that unfortunate soul who didn’t get the interview, or even lost their job, due to something written on their Facebook page? While Facebook can make it very easy to feel comfortable with social media, that comfort can lead to oversharing, which can then lead to problems with employers. Students can get around this by creating a private account just for family and friends, as well as a public account just for potential employers and other networking contacts.
Made up primarily of images, Instagram can also be leveraged as a social media networking tool. By using photographs as a backdrop for your messages to others, it’s possible to turn this social media site into a portfolio of where you’ve been, who you have connected with and what projects you are working on. For instance, there might be a series of posts from a conference, followed by an image of you at a volunteer event. Potential employers might enjoy scrolling through to get a real-world view of what you have done.
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