Every year, students flock to popular spring break destinations such as Daytona Beach, Cabo, and Cancun. For them, spring break is a chance to blow off some much-needed steam away from their daily routine. But for students nearing the graduation finish line, spring break might actually be the last chance to make crucial networking connections before heading out into the real world.
Networking is a long process that involves building fruitful relationships over time; in other words, it doesn’t happen over night. Students should take advantage of any free block of time before graduation—like spring break—to develop relationships with industry professionals. Doing so can put you in a better spot to land that summer or full-time job down the road. To shed some light on how to go about this, NerdScholar asked university experts for their advice on how students can best leverage spring break to build their professional networks.
[Want more career advice? Check out our Job Search Guide for Gen Y.]
1. Talk with family members.
Students heading home for spring break should take the time to reconnect with family members, advises Ron Culp, a professor at DePaul University. They are typically your biggest advocates in the job search. Students should also seek out family friends and acquaintances that are recent college graduates, Dawn Edmiston, a professor at Saint Vincent College, says. These people “can provide the best insight on what to expect in an entry-level position on a daily basis.” By connecting with family and friends, you will expose yourself to a wide variety of industries and job titles.
2. Travel to cities you might want to work in after college.
Networking over spring break doesn’t necessarily mean you have to miss out on spending time in new and exciting places. For those interested in moving to a new city, spring break is the perfect opportunity to meet people who work in your preferred industry there. The best way to do this is to “schedule informational interviews with alumni, target employers and other contacts” in your desired metropolis, Donna Stein, a professor at Syracuse University, says.
Still, the thought of traveling for the sake of meeting professional contacts can seem daunting. Networking is already a challenge if you are unsure of your career path, let alone identifying specific people in a foreign place who will be willing to carve out time to talk to you. But it is important to remember that networking requires “a willingness to move outside of your comfort zone by meeting new people and letting your professional relationships develop over time,” says Isaiah Pickens, a professor at John Jay College.
3. Don’t discount volunteering.
Students beginning the job hunt typically overlook the benefits of volunteering. In fact, volunteering is “one of the most effective ways to build connections,” Pickens says. Spring break provides the perfect time to devote yourself to such projects in your community or abroad. For instance, many universities and student-run organizations offer opportunities to spend spring break volunteering elsewhere, typically referred to as “alternative spring breaks.” Such trips are not only eye-opening and personally rewarding experiences, but they are also great resume boosters for graduating seniors. Volunteering will open doors to new networks of people who can “potentially mentor and support your career goals,” says Pickens. Ellen McMahon, dean and professor at the Lake Forest Graduate School of Management, adds that it is important for all students to network outside of their regular circles. According to McMahon, “professional organizations and local business events also offer wonderful opportunities to build strong networks.”
4. Take advantage of career center resources.
Since spring break is a time when most people are away on vacation, students who stick around should make use of career center resources then. It’s a time when, “guaranteed, you will be able to get an appointment for one-on-one career counseling, resume advice, mock interviews, or other services the center may provide,” says Susan Ramlo, a professor at the University of Akron. Because undergraduates focus most of their time balancing a heavy course-load and part-time jobs, Susan believes spring break provides a valuable, class-free time to enhance professional skills, make yourself available for informational interviews, and prepare for those ever-looming spring career fairs.
5. Stand out from the crowd.
Networking over spring break not only gives undergraduates a head start in the job and internship search, but according to Ron Culp, it separates you as a more serious job candidate to potential employers. “Most college students focus on relaxation during spring break, so it is to your advantage to request informational interviews and to network at this time,” he says. “Professionals will be sympathetic and try to meet with you, especially when they hear that you opted to see them rather than go to Cancun.”
6. Rebrand your online presence.
It is crucial to make sure that your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and any other social media profiles are in check when beginning the networking process. An off-color profile picture can be the reason an employer doesn’t hire you, says Ramlo, so taking the initiative early on—like over spring break—will benefit your career choices down the road.
Donna Stein is an adjunct professor in public relations at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. She is the founder and managing partner of Donna Stein & Partners, a corporate communications and investor relations consultancy.
Ron Culp is an instructor and the professional director of the Public Relations and Advertising M.A. program at DePaul University. He was formerly a partner and head of the North America Corporate Practice for Ketchum, a global public relations agency.
Isaiah Pickens is a psychology professor at the John Jay College City University of New York who specializes in adolescent and young adult development.
Ellen McMahon is the dean of faculty relations and degree programs at Lake Forest Graduate School of Management.
Dawn Edmiston is an associate professor of management and marketing at Saint Vincent College with 20 years of experience in the consulting, education and media sectors.
Susan Ramlo is a professor of technology and education at the University of Akron. She is a former industrial physicist and a nationally recognized STEM education expert.
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