One of the most effective techniques for landing your dream job is making connections. Some people are uncomfortable with networking because they see it as schmoozing, an underhanded way of getting a job or internship. But there’s a distinct line between networking and schmoozing. Most people recognize when someone’s schmoozing with them: it’s fake, it’s tacky, and there’s an obvious ulterior motive. Networking, on the other hand, is one of the best tools you can have while exploring life beyond college, and if you’re really good at it, it can even be fun.
• Be genuine: Networking is essentially about connecting with professionals in your desired field. These connections can lead to anything from some insightful words of wisdom to further connections to internships and job offers. A networking opportunity can pop up anywhere if you’re looking, but make sure you’re attending hot spots, like job fairs, alumni weekends and events hosted by your school’s career center. When you’re at this kind of event, introduce yourself professionally but personably; mention your name, year, major/minor, goals and field of interest.
• Ask questions: Make this a conversation, not an obvious attempt to snag a job or internship. People love being asked about their lives and careers, so if you ask open-ended questions, they’ll be happy to talk. If you’re tongue-tied, try these conversation starters:
“I’m really interested in _____. What advice would you give to someone breaking into the field?”
“What’s an average day like for you?”
“What would you recommend I look at after college? An internship, graduate school, an entry-level job?”
• Use social media: LinkedIn is a particularly useful tool for contacting professionals. You can follow up with contacts and share each other’s resumes. It’s a subtle way of bragging about your qualifications in case of future internship and job opportunities. You can even expand your networking web via connections with connections or searching for specific companies that you like.
• Talk to professors and alumni: If you’re a senior or just looking for internship opportunities, you need to be proactive. Ask your favorite professors if they have names and contacts of professionals who can give you advice. You’ll be amazed at what some of your college’s alumni have gone on to accomplish, and most of them will be more than happy to talk to you.
Networking can be nerve-wracking, but when you think about it, there’s nothing to be nervous about. Most people you’ll be networking with are friendly, outgoing professionals who want to see you succeed. As long as you’re polite and curious, you’ll be just fine.