Wouldn't it be great if there were a way to parlay the typical activities of a college student into a job upon graduation? As it happens, there is such a way. It's called networking, and it fits in wonderfully with all the things that college students normally do.
Take all the socializing you typically do as a college student, crank it up a few notches, and you have networking of the sort that can truly help you land a job upon graduation. When you first enroll in college, you don't necessarily think about the kinds of hard-core networking activities that will really benefit your job search later on. But the earlier you start, the better off you will be.
By the way, the networking activities discussed here should supplement, not substitute for, traditional job-hunting activities, such as sending out resumes, participating in on-campus recruiting, and using the Internet in your job search.
Recommendations from college career counselors as to when college students should begin networking range from freshman year to the middle or end of the junior year.
Certainly freshman year is not too early to get to know your professors, especially your adviser. Getting to know your cohort students, a process that comes naturally to the collegiate experience, will also lay the networking groundwork in your first year.
A good way to meet as many other students as possible is to participate in as many organizations and activities as your academic schedule will permit you to handle.
Be a curious friend; finding out as much as possible about your classmates and their interests, along with their families and parents' occupations, can provide valuable information that you may want to recall as you approach graduation. Be sure to reciprocate with information that will help others. Freshman year is also the time to consider whether to join a fraternity or sorority. If you are holding down a job, establish relationships with your boss and coworkers.
By sophomore year, you are probably beginning to narrow your career goals, which makes your second year an excellent time to embark on a series of informational interviews that will help bring your career into focus.
Start thinking about obtaining an internship in your career field -- which can yield excellent network contacts -- for the summer between your sophomore and junior years or for part of your junior year in school. If your career goal is well-defined at this point, sophomore year is a good time to join student chapters of professional organizations (or obtain a student membership to a regular chapter).
Junior year is key. Start your most serious networking push now by doing the following:
- Develop your resume if you have not done so already. You should have your resume ready so that you can ask some of your network contacts to critique it. You also want to have it ready in case someone you meet asks for it. You may not be in a position to accept a job at this point, but you could gain an internship opportunity and great contact by having your resume ready.
- Begin to brainstorm a list of potential networking contacts. See if you can come up with about 250, but don't beat yourself up if you can't. Any number is a good start, and the list is sure to grow.
- Make a list of companies you'd like to work for and start thinking about whom you know who might be able to help you break into your dream companies.
- Sign up with one or more networking site online, such as LinkedIn. Search for and contact people in your prospective career field and geographical preference.
- Find out if your campus career-services office keeps a database of alumni that could be added to your network. Check the alumni files of your fraternity or sorority, too.
- Join one or more online discussion groups in your area of professional interest. Ask members' advice on breaking into your field.
- Step up the pace of informational interviews. People working in your dream companies are excellent targets for interviews.
- Consider creating a "networking card," a business card for those not yet employed, so you have something tangible to hand out to people you meet.
- Begin to introduce yourself to every guest speaker you encounter in classes. Give them your networking card, and, if appropriate, your resume.
- Continue schmoozing with professors, students, and employers.
- Become increasingly active in professional organizations.
- If you have not yet done an internship or otherwise obtained practical experience in your field, set the wheels in motion to do so before the middle of your senior year, and make as many contacts as possible at your internship workplace.
Networking activities should be a major focus of your pivotal senior year:
- Decide where you want to live after graduation.
- If necessary, narrow your list of dream employers based on geography, and strategize ways to contact key people in your dream companies.
- Join professional organizations in your targeted geographic area. If it's not practical for you to attend meetings, ask the membership chair for a membership list so you can contact members.
- Meet with your adviser early in your senior year for an in-depth discussion of your career goals, and ask for his or her suggestions for people to contact.
- Continue to maintain contact with professors, students, employers, guest speakers, and folks you've "met" through online networking efforts.
- Find out if your university or academic department has a formal mentoring program and ask to be matched with a mentor. If no program exists, try to scout out a mentor on your own. Alumni often make especially good mentors.
- Fine-tune your list of potential network contacts and set a goal to contact a certain number each week or month. Arrange to meet with as many contacts as possible, and always ask each one for more referrals. Send thank-you notes, and update your contacts regularly on your progress.
- Continue informational interviewing.
- Begin to contact people with whom you conducted informational interviews earlier in your college career to tell them you are getting close to graduation and remain very interested in their organizations.
- Enjoy your graduation ceremony with a big smile on your face, because if you've done all the above, you are probably graduating with a job in hand. Be sure to write one more note to all your contacts telling them about your new job. And don't throw away any of your networking information; sometimes that first job doesn't work out, and you just might need to call upon your network again.