Q: My daughter will be looking for an internship during her last year in college, and ultimately, a job, but she has no connections and no idea where to start. How can students begin to build their network while still in college so the search for employment will be easier when they graduate?
A: The good news is you are asking the right question. The point of networking is to ensure that you are connected with people early on so when you need assistance, you know where to reach out.
Here are some top tips for college students to get their feet wet in the networking game:
1) Find out about networking events your college is planning. Often schools host networking events for current students and alums. It’s a great way to meet new people who are already in the workforce, and alums are often invested in helping students at their alma mater.
2) Find out about networking events in your neighborhood. Shuls are looking for ways to engage students, particularly young women who have recently returned from studying in Israel. Recognizing that students will be planning their future professional careers, shuls have started hosting networking events with business people in the community. See if your shul has an event planned or suggest that they host one on their own or in conjunction with another shul.
3) Stay connected with people you know. Make a list of connections you have through your school, internships, jobs you have held and your local community. You can connect via email, LinkedIn or by meeting for a periodic cup of coffee, sharing your career goals and learning more about theirs. From time to time, you can email a connection with an interesting professional article and a personal note, checking in and indicating why it would be of interest. You can also do something as simple as sending a shana tova email or congratulating them on a promotion. The main goal is to stay in touch and ensure that people in your network remember you in a positive way.
4) Use people in your network as “connectors”. Your network may include individuals in various professions who may be able to act as “connectors”. They themselves may not have information or a job for you but they may be able to introduce you to someone else who can provide valuable career advice or, if you are lucky, an internship or job. But remember to pay it forward! As a student, and also later on in your career, make an introduction and be a connector for different people in your network.
5) Network online through LinkedIn. If you don’t already have your LinkedIn profile set up, do so immediately. Connect with people you know via LinkedIn and see who their connections are and request an introduction to others. Keep in touch with your LinkedIn network by messaging connections, posting articles you have written and sharing articles you find interesting to those in your profession. Target influencers in your chosen field, connect with them and comment on their posts. Respond and comment in a way that shows your interest and expertise in the field so if you reach out or someone else reaches out on your behalf, they’ll remember you as someone intelligent and motivated.
6) Engage in online chat groups. You can engage in chats hosted by professional groups in your chosen field. This will help you meet others with similar interests who may already be employed. You can also respond or message people on Twitter and connect that way. I know of a media student who continually offered research assistance to a journalist on CNBC for free, via Twitter, and ultimately landed a job when the reporter got his own show.
7) Make volunteering a priority. Find causes that interest you, and commit time on a regular basis. Some nonprofit board members are extremely well-connected, and if you develop a relationship with them, they may offer to submit a resume for you to a potential employer. It’s always a good idea to contribute and help others, but doing so will also look good on your resume and help you meet a new group of people who could potentially be “connections” or “connectors”.
8) Ask for informational interviews to gain real-world exposure to your field. Reach out to people you or your parents know who are currently working in your chosen field. Ask for an informational interview or a brief meeting to talk about their profession and learn more about what skills/personality are needed to succeed, what a typical day is like and available career opportunities. Be sure to thank them after the meeting, and ask them who else they think you should speak with in the field. This will help you expand your network and learn more about the field. Most people enjoy being viewed as an expert and are happy to share their time with people just starting out.
9) Keep in touch with your professors. Some are also working in your chosen profession and have contacts with whom they can connect you. Many are contacted regularly by employers seeking good students for internships or jobs. Your professors know your talents and capabilities. Be sure they also know you are looking for a position, and have your resume on hand in case they receive these types of calls.
College students are not used to breaking out of their cliques and reaching out to professional adults, but when you become comfortable connecting with people, you’ll be making a long-term investment in your future. Undoubtedly, you’ll reap the benefits of your network for years to come.