Networking is an integral part of job hunting. That much is clear. Things get a lot murkier, though, when it comes to actually figuring out how to network. To help demystify the process, we asked several career experts to suggest some best practices for making and using connections to land a job.
1. Attend networking events
Going to networking events is an excellent way to meet professionals in your field of interest. These are typically industry-specific gatherings that take place at locations as varied as bars and convention centers. They give employers and people looking for work a chance to chat with each other. Although you shouldn’t expect to land a job at one of these meetings, engaging in conversations with people who were in your shoes not long ago can get you one step closer to that goal.
“Attend face-to-face networking events as often as possible,” says Trish Thomas, assistant director of the Center for Internships and Career Development at Eastern Connecticut State University. She adds that these can be great opportunities to practice your “elevator pitch.”
“These types of networking events are great ways to meet people in your industry of interest, learn about different career paths, showcase your skills and interests, and polish your networking skills,” says Nick Praedin, assistant director of co-op and experiential education at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania.
2. Learn more about your industry
Do whatever you can to learn more about your field of interest. For instance, if you’re desperate to break into the publishing world, consider going to book launch parties or author panels. These kinds of experiences will not only get you into touch with the right people, but also give you insight on how your chosen industry works.
“One of the best gifts you can give yourself while you are still in school is a solid understanding of the industry you plan on entering,” says Chris Szpryngel, acting dean of the Malcolm Baldrige School of Business at Post University in Connecticut.
“Professionals love talking about themselves and usually relish an opportunity to source new talent,” Szpryngel says. “Get to know these professionals, and understand how they have achieved their current positions. This will give you an idea of the potential trajectory of your career.”
Sharon McKinney, an instructional specialist at Eastfield College in the Dallas area, stresses the importance of approaching these types of events with a mentality of “I don’t know everything, but I’m willing to learn.”
3. Reach out to family, friends and professors
Thomas advises students to build and maintain ties with people in “all aspects of their lives,” including classmates and distant family members.
“Every person they know should be considered a potential job lead,” she says.
“Leverage your relationships with your professors,” Szpryngel adds. “Many students don’t tap into one of the strongest communities they can network with: those who taught them networking. Many professors teach in the fields they have worked or currently work in, and can offer students invaluable advice. Building a strong foundation with your professors now will help open the door to future communication and potential job opportunities down the line.”
4. Maintain a solid online presence
It’s important to keep your social media accounts up to date, polished and professional. In other words, you’re better off keeping those spring break pictures of you and your friends private.
Thomas recommends that students develop “a strong online presence on LinkedIn to show prospective employers that they have matured from ‘college kid’ to ‘young professional.’”
Kevin Hewerdine, director of career services and employer relations at Indiana’s Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, believes that social media can be a great tool for identifying key members of organizations you’re interested in working for.
“Find the right person who is making the hiring decisions within a company,” he says. “Then open a dialogue with him or her through social media. Follow the company on social media.”
5. Give yourself time
Finding a job takes time, and networking can be a similarly drawn-out – and, yes, frustrating – process. Don’t fret if you haven’t made any good contacts after your first few networking events. Being persistent will go a long way.
“Enter this process knowing that finding a job isn’t a three- or four-week process; it’s a six-month process, if not longer,” Hewerdine says. “Start early, follow up with your contacts often, and stay positive. Get as many people as possible to know who you are, your skills, and how you will help the company.”
“Although it may be difficult not to, try not to measure yourself against your peers who may be pursuing opportunities in industries that differ in terms of hiring timelines and needs,” Praedin says.
For some people, “networking” has negative connotations, and is even synonymous with schmoozing. In reality, it’s a relatively painless part of the job search process that goes way beyond making empty, awkward small talk with people whose names you won’t remember the next day. By meeting experts in your area of interest, you’re giving yourself a huge leg up on your competition while gaining valuable insight into your prospective career.
Illustration by Dora Pintek.