Networking tips for college seniors
In part four of this series, college career counselors share their best student-specific networking strategies.
This is part of an ongoing series of advice for new grads from career counselors.
Between cramming for finals, frantically finishing theses projects, and wrapping up internships and part-time jobs, seniors are exceptionally busy people.
Compound all that with an uber-competitive job landscape, and you might be freaking out.
Yup, it’s likely that dozens of other people—seniors and those with career experience—will apply to the jobs you’re interested in. Think knowing someone that can help you get hired will help? You bet.
You hear it all the time: “You’ve got to get out there and network.” But the thought of making small talk with strangers can feel scary and overwhelming—and it can feel like there are so many people you should be reaching out to, you don’t know where to start. Never fear.
Monster asked college career counselors what kinds of networking strategies are most valuable to help you find a job, and how you should prioritize them in your hectic countdown to graduation.
Start with who you know
“Students should take advantage of every opportunity to speak face-to-face with professionals in career fields of interest,” says Vickie Cox-Lanyon, career services director at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts.
But if you’ve never networked before, you might be thinking, “Don’t I need to have a network first?” The good news is, you’ve got one. Everyone does.
“Begin with your existing network of family, friends, and college faculty and staff,” says Cox-Lanyon. “Even if no one in your immediate circles works in a related industry or role, they all know other people and would likely be willing to make introductions.”
Don’t forget about alumni, either. They are expecting you to reach out. They’re not complete strangers, because you have something very important in common: You went to the same school and probably had a lot of similar experiences (on and off campus). Meet with your college career services advisors for help connecting with alumni who may work at the companies you’d like to land a job.
“Alumni working in your target organizations may be able to act as ‘recruitment advisors’ and provide company-specific advice about resume content or interview formats,” says Lisa Gavigan, director of career services at Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts.
“To make this process more manageable, students need to get organized,” says William Bailey, director of career and professional development at Clarion University in Clarion, Pennsylvania.
He recommends using a basic spreadsheet with a format similar to this:
Alumni (recent /established)
College employer partners
internships and pt. jobs
Friends or family
“Fill in potential contacts for each network category,” he says, “keeping in mind how each person can help with your job search. Then, prioritize the top contacts from all categories and narrow them to the 10 most promising contacts.”
Your goal is to have a conversation—by phone or, ideally, in person at an informational interview.
“Your outreach should be extremely professional and polished,” says Kristen McMullen, director of the Student Success Center at the College of Charleston School of Business in Charleston, South Carolina. “You are not asking for a job; instead, you are asking the person what path they took to get where they are today, and what advice they would share with someone interested in entering the field.”
In addition to inquiring about a person’s career path, “ask about their current role and organization,” says Cox-Lanyon. “This is the best way to get the insight needed to write a tailored cover letter and stand out from other applicants.”
Don’t forget to network on social media
As a member of the class of 2017, you’ve got one innate networking skill that you can activate with the tap of a finger: social media savvy. All you have to do is shift gears, and instead of following people and brands that interest you on a personal level, start to follow people and brands that interest you on a professional level.
Catrina DosReis, director of career services and outreach, North Carolina Central University in Durham, North Carolina says that following an organization on social media can help you stay on top of what’s happening at that company so you seem informed and prepared once you get to interview, and also, you might be able to see if any “friends” in your network might be associated with that opportunity. Be sure to scan all of your social media profiles to make sure you appear professional and check your privacy settings if you don’t want recruiters seeing embarrassing pictures or posts from your younger days.
Why wait until finals roll around? Get started with your job search today.