Sarah Fudin currently works in community relations for the University of Southern California's Master of Arts in Teaching program, which provides aspiring teachers the opportunity to earn a Masters in Education online and teacher certification. Outside of work Sarah enjoys running, reading and Pinkberry frozen yogurt.
There was a time when college graduates were recruited for jobs post-graduation months before they had finished their degree. Today the onus is on students to create their own career opportunities, and this is where networking comes in. In addition to finishing coursework and preparing for graduation, it's important for students to spend time establishing a network of potential career contacts.
In college you may have networked with the goal of finding new friends. Career networking isn't really about making friends, though you may establish close relationships along the way. It's more about finding resources in your chosen field. Networking will help you learn about jobs and career options. As you network, the contacts you make have the potential of turning into job referrals. Networking can also help you can gain interview experience and increase your professional confidence.
How to get started?
One of the biggest challenges for students who are getting started with networking is making the mental switch from college student to career professional. In order to market yourself, you need to have a strong sense of your skills and strengths – your "brand." Create a pitch: a simple short description of your skills and your career goals. Be prepared to pitch yourself every time you meet a new contact. Have a personal business card printed with your phone number and email address to present with your pitch. Your card will help people remember you after an initial meeting.
Where should you network?
A good place to network is anywhere that puts you in contact with professionals in your field. Internships and part-time jobs are great ways to meet and observe professionals while gaining hands-on experience. Join professional organizations, attend meetings and conferences, and read journals and other publications related to your field. You can also network at school by getting to know your professors. In addition to serving as mentors, they typically have professional contacts who are interested in hearing about promising graduates. Finally, don't overlook fellow students as good sources for career information both now and in the future.
What about online networking?
Use Internet searches to find out more about companies that could be potential employers. If social media plays a role in your field, get involved in online discussion groups and web-based networking. Be prepared to listen and enter into the online conversation. You can also use social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn to let friends and family members know that you’re in search of job leads.
Polish your online presence.
To project a positive professional image you need a spotless online presence. Many employers do Internet searches to find out more about potential employees. Avoid posting pictures or comments that depict you as anything less than serious and dependable.
Make networking one of your job-search tools.
Networking should one of the tools in your job-search toolbox rather than the focus of all your efforts. Think of it as a supplement to traditional job-search activities, like visiting your campus career center, sending out resumes and following up with job postings. Also, there's no reason to wait until senior year to network. Once you've targeting a major and field of interest, you can begin making network contacts.
Taking it to the next level.
Networking is more than just shaking hands and passing out business cards. Take it to the next level by building mutually-beneficial relationships. Show just as much interest in what you can do for your contacts as in what they can do for you. Think of networking as a life-long activity. You may be looking for a job today, but in a few months or a few years, you may be in a position to help someone else in their job search.
Be sure to check out our career section, with advice on how to job search, how to write a resume and how to write a cover letter!