How Should a Young Person Network?

Steve writes:
As a student I know I am supposed to network with individuals but most of the older people I encounter have no interest in helping a young professional or think I am just looking to get a job which is not the case….how can I approach them so they understand that I am just looking for guidance and not necessarily a job?

The Career Doctor responds:
Networking is THE most powerful tool of job-hunting. The vast majority of jobs are filled through networking — and its importance is more than that of any of the other job-hunting methods combined.

You can build your network in any number of ways… and yes some people will be more inclined to join your network than others. But remember… it’s not just about the people you know but all the people in the networks of the people you know.

Family and Friends. You’ve probably known these people are many years if not your entire life and they have a strong interest in seeing you succeed. Even if your family and friends are not in the career field you seek the chances that they know someone — or know someone who knows someone — in your field are very high.

Classmates and Alumni. People who attend the same school have an automatic bond. The student sitting next to you may live next door to the VP of marketing for General Electric. One of your school’s alumni may be pharmaceutical sales director for GlaxoSmithKline. These people — because of the shared bond of attending the same college — have a strong interest in helping you so these folks are great to network with.

Professors and Classroom Guest Speakers. Your professors are typically professionals in their fields and not only have a pulse on the career beat but also a collection of contacts within their field. The same holds of guest speakers. These folks obviously like talking with and helping students so after the speaker finishes try to talk to him/her and begin building a relationship that could greatly help you.

Online Networking and Other Networking Sources. While not always as strong as a personal connection there are also many more opportunities for networking with people online — through social and professional networking sites. And don’t forget about any social event or gathering – those are great places to network.

How to approach people when networking? Use the same principles you use when meeting any new people. Find some common ground first and build rapport. The best way to signal to them that you are not asking for a job is to almost come right out and say it. From that initial conversation as long as you continue to follow-up you will have established a strong networking relationship.

Finally let me mention a wonderful networking tool for younger job-seekers and career-changers: informational interviewing — in which you schedule one-on-one meetings with people in your field to learn more about the industry and in the process add these people to your network.

For more tips and tools including places and people to network – both in person and online — go to this section of my career site Quintessential Careers: The Art of Career Networking.
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