Networking tips for college seniors
Career experts share their best student-specific networking strategies.
Finishing up college and getting ready to enter the workforce can be a very exciting and busy time. After working hard for four (or more) years, finding that first job doesn’t always come easy, especially if you’re in a competitive field. Sometimes, it takes a real pounding-the-pavement networking effort to get in front of the right people and convince them to choose you over the other eager candidates who are inquiring about positions. In other words, it may take more than submitting your resume and waiting for a response.
Yes, you’ve likely heard the word networking a lot in your college career center or from professionals you may know, but what does it really entail and how do you do it right? Follow this guidance, and you will be able to network your way to new opportunities. Bonus tip: Check out Monster's grad site for lots of awesome information.
Your network is all around you
Start with your school. “A lot of schools will actually have a group of alumni who you can go to for career advice, talk about a career, and help you network,” says Wes Perry, SVP and chief talent officer at Leader Bank, N.A. Talk to your college’s career services and alumni associations to find out how to get involved with these groups.
Another option is to do some searches on alumni from your college who’ve been successful in your field, and reach out proactively. “It’s as simple as an email," says Perry. "Introduce yourself by saying, ‘I’m a new graduate of XYZ University. I’m starting out and would like to see if you have a few minutes to talk and provide advice on how I can better my chances of getting a job.’”
You should also network with your professors and fellow graduates for their tips on how to navigate your field.
Beyond your school, take advantage of groups on social networking sites and meet-up groups in your local area that are related to your profession, says Mike Ruggiero, senior recruiter at Lionbridge Technologies. “Groups I’ve joined give me the opportunity to see who I’m connected to and then be able to reach out say, ‘Hey, I see that you work at XYZ company. Is there anything you can tell me about the culture or what’s new at the company?’”
Having those conversations on the side and mentioning ways in which you may be connected (i.e. "You worked with my Uncle Phil," or, "You grew up in my neighborhood"), gives you the fire power to position yourself, says Ruggiero.
Finally, don’t forget to chat up people you know—your family, friends, neighbors, members of your house of worship, volunteer groups, etc. Sometimes a casual mention of your career interests could lead to a surprising offer of help and support from someone you didn’t even think had connections.
Networking etiquette to follow
When building your network, it’s important to think of it as a give and take relationship, and to be mindful and respectful of other people’s time. For example, if you’re approaching one of your professors, ask for a few minutes of their time during their designated office hours, rather than approach them in the cafeteria on their lunch break.
Some questions you can ask people in your network:
- Do you know of any professional organizations that might be good for me?
- I see you graduated six years ago and work for this company. Any suggestions on how you found your first job?
- Would you mind taking a look at my resume and cover letter to see if it’s on the right track?
If you’re reaching out through an email or online message, make sure you put your best foot forward, says Perry. “Your note to them should sound professional, and not have spelling errors. Even when you speak to someone, think about word choices.”
Ruggiero agrees. “You are being judged as a professional in every aspect of job seeking. Use full sentences, and don’t give one word answers. You have to be on your game,” he says.
It also never hurts to show some effort, says Ruggiero. “One engagement that I thought was well done was someone who said, ‘I’ve been on your website and I saw this role. Is there anything that you know of coming down the line that might fit my skills better?’ It showed they had done their research first and it was well written, so I responded right away,” says Ruggiero.
Even better? If possible, mention any associations that can help tip the scales in your favor, such as, “I see that we’re both connected to Bill Smith. I did some work with him over the summer.” Offering a compliment isn’t a bad idea either, something along the lines of: “I just read your insightful blog post about X and wanted to reach out.”
One more tip: Networking doesn’t always have to be aimed at one particular person. It’s perfectly OK to post about your career aspirations or send out a group message. Try something like: "Friends, I need your help. Coming off my internship where I handled XYZ, it excited me about this type of work. Does anyone know of opportunities I should put my eyes on?"
“A message like that gets their attention and is not asking for anything. People tend to gravitate toward that,” says Ruggiero.
Ultimately, it’s a percentage game. “If you put yourself out there to five people or places vs. fifty people or places, you’re going to change your odds," says Ruggiero. “You can’t wait for people to find you. Continue to pump out messaging.”
Once you eventually land that first job, don’t think that your networking efforts are complete. In fact, you’ve only just begun. “As you meet someone or talk to someone new, find a way to stay in touch with them. Maybe it’s passing along an article to them that’s pertinent to a conversation you had with them,” says Perry. “As we get busier, it gets harder to do that, but make the time.” You never know which people in your network or which well-timed message might turn into a good opportunity.
Let them come to you
Networking is a two-way street. Not only do you need to reach out to others, but you need to position yourself to be found by companies who are looking to hire. Need some help getting going? Join Monster for free today. As a member, you can upload up to five versions of your resume and cover letter—each tailored to the types of jobs that interest you. Recruiters search Monster every day looking to fill top jobs with qualified candidates, just like you. Additionally, you can get job alerts sent to your inbox when positions become available. These are two quick and easy ways to help you get your foot in the door and kick-start your career.