Have you ever heard someone say “the key to your next job is networking, networking, and networking”? Well, it may not be entirely true, but isn’t far off either. Unless you are known in the industry or at least known by a few people in an organization, the chances of landing your dream job or even an interview can be challenging. Without a solid network of clients, connections, peers, or leaders your chances of success are greatly hindered.

Many college students think that networking starts after college. I hear it all the time that “I’m still in school and won’t be looking for a job until next year. I’ll worry about it next summer”. My response usually goes something like “networking is more than getting a job, and waiting puts you behind everyone else that is out there shaking hands and joining the conversations”. You never know who you’ll meet that will connect you with an opportunity that you never imagined existed.

All your life you’ve been networking, but at this stage you will want to grow your professional network. Your college years gives you a unique opportunity to meet faculty and leaders from across industries. Conferences and workshops are often discounted for college students as well. Finally, if you look around your classroom you will see 20+ other students who will be getting jobs or advancing in their line of work. If you don’t network now you miss out on all of that!

What Is Networking

The purpose of professional networking is to form relationships with leaders, faculty, and/or peers. Everyone’s college experience should include creating professional relationships. It is critical in your success.  Having quality people know you improves your chances at getting a job and be invited to important meetings, conferences and workshops.

There are a number of reasons you will want to build your network now. First, networking gives you experiences and helps you gain knowledge. If you are not great at public speaking or talking about yourself, networking gives you a safe environment to practice. Experiencing conversation with peers or leaders helps you gain the confidence you will need when it is time to interview for your dream job. Second, networking allows you to gain invaluable advice and potentially land a lifetime mentor. Next, networking helps you hear about new ideas or innovations that are not currently taught in any courses. Finally, networking can help you get a foot in a door that leads to your next or future career.

Gain Knowledge

Networking is also a great way to gain knowledge. Remember that networking isn’t all about what you get from it, but also what you give to it. Every interaction with another person has the potential of helping you gain knowledge. The knowledge your gain by listening to their story, their experiences, sharing similarities or learning about your differences can be extremely valuable.

Another way to gain knowledge through networking is to participate in conferences and workshops. Join a round table, test out a software, be part of a meet-up group…however you can use networking to gain knowledge will help you in the future!

Gain Advice and be a Mentors

Good feedback and advice are hard to come by. Networking allows you the opportunity to meet with people that have already gone through what you are doing now. They can provide insights and ideas on how to make the most out of those experiences. They have the experiences and insights that got them where they are today.  Asking for advice or even asking someone to be your mentor is a good practice. Many of those you meet will be happy to give back and be that person.

Securing a Mentor should be another goal of networking. A mentor is someone who has a lot of experiences. A mentor can share experiences that help guide you as you grow personally and professionally. According to Loretto (2018) a good mentor not only answers questions and provides feedback but values ongoing learning and growth in the field. Finding someone that understands that growing and learning is a continuous process helps turn a one-time mentor or adviser into a lifelong teacher.

New Ideas and Innovations

Another important reason to network is to hear about what is currently happening in the industry. New ideas and future innovations are being discussed now and if you are not part of the conversation you will never know about them…or know about them after everyone else has already taken advantage of them.

Rarely will you hear someone at a Tech Conference say “that’s the way we have always done it and that’s the only way we will ever do it”. It just doesn’t happen! The world of tech is constantly changing and adapting to new ideas and innovations and networking gets you in the know.

Landing the Dream Job

Well, we finally get to the reason why most of us THINK we should be networking, a foot in the door.

The average recruiter or hiring manager spends 6 seconds reading a resume. Think about it, Six seconds! (Glassdoor, 2017) That’s less than the time it took for you to read this sentence. With hundreds of resumes submitted for one position the chances of yours being read maybe a longshot unless you make it stand out.

Having a personal or professional connection in the organization increases the chance your resume will be read. By having a strong network of industry members you increases your chances of at least getting through the initial review and into the interview stage.

Networking Plan

Now that you know some of the reasons you should network, let’s look at how to create a Networking Plan.  Yes, that’s right…have a plan! There is little in life that doesn’t turn out a little better with some sort of plan! Just shaking hands with as many people as you can, doesn’t move you forward, you need to have a plan.

Your plan doesn’t need to be overly detailed, but knowing what you need to accomplish as you network allows you to make the most out of every opportunity. Ask yourself:

  • what do I want to do,
  • who would I like to meet,
  • what is important for me to know about now,
  • what options do I have to make face to face connections,
  • what personal areas do I need to work on -interviewing, talking to others, elevator speech, listening, gaining experience and
  • who can help me with those?

All of these questions help you formulate a Networking Plan that allows you to get what you want and need. Creating a plan of action that takes you through a number of networking strategies will help you develop a strong and usable network.

It will also be useful to know the different networking tools and benefits! LinkedIn is one such tool and provides you with a place to display your professional portfolio. You should have a strong presence on LinkedIn. People do look!

Conferences and workshops are another tool that can benefit you. When people see you at events their impression is that you are a learner and like to be part of the conversation. Participation increases the chances that you will be invited into future discussions.

Summary

So, create a plan by answering the following questions:

  1. How will you gain knowledge and insights?
  2. Who do you feel would be a good mentor or industry advisor and how do you connect with them?
  3. Which company have I researched and would like to know more of or have a career opportunity with?
  4. What and where can I find networking opportunities

Answer these questions and set yourself apart.

References:

Jackson, A.E. (2017). This Is Exactly What Hiring Mangers and Recruiters Look for When Scanning Resumes. Retrieved from https://www.glassdoor.com/blog/scanning-resumes/.

Loretto, P. (2018). 8 Qualities of a Good Mentor. The Balance Careers. Retrieved from https://www.thebalancecareers.com/qualities-of-a-good-mentor-1986663