Everyone you know and everyone you meet are potential resources as you explore career options. Alumni, parents, employers, faculty, staff and students are all rich sources of information and potential opportunities. Learning how to “network” (i.e. build relationships) with others is crucial to career development, from your first internship to mid-life career changes.
Networking is the process of gathering helpful information from a network of contacts to assist you in planning your career and in looking for internships and jobs. It’s a process of building relationships from which you enlist support and ask for ideas, advice and referrals to those with hiring power. Sharing information with your contacts in return is essential to building mutually beneficial relationships. Make sure you know yourself and what you have to offer (e.g. greatest accomplishments, personal and professional interests, career-related values).
Based on a US Department of Labor survey, almost 50% of job seekers secured positions from referrals from friends or relatives (otherwise known as networking!). SU’s annual Post-Graduate Survey also finds that the largest percentage of grads always report finding their first job through networking.
We know that a vast majority of job vacancies are never posted. Employers are often reluctant to advertise positions directly because of cost (of advertising and of staff time to look through the mountains of applications generated by direct postings) and because they believe word-of-mouth referrals lead to the best candidates in the most efficient manner. In addition, networking may uncover job opportunities before they actually exist, due to the length of time necessary to conceptualize, craft and advertise position descriptions formally.
Networking is especially useful in highly competitive industries, in fields where full-scale recruiting is cost-prohibitive (e.g. non-profits) and for less obvious occupations (e.g. not teaching, engineering, law, medicine, business management). Networking serves several purposes; be sure to clarify for yourself why you are contacting a particular individual before doing so. Reasons include:
- Focusing your choice of major or career direction
- Validating your choice of career
- Getting advice about your job search
- Refining your interviewing skills
- Uncovering specific employer information or job leads
Your first tier of contacts doesn’t necessarily contain individuals who will lead directly to a job. Rather, the initial, developmental networking process involves contacting readily available people you may already know:
- Alumni (especially recent grads)
- Parents and other family
- Parents of classmates and friends
- Faculty and staff
- Current and former employers
- Guest speakers, campus recruiters and job fair reps
- Members of professional associations
- Members of student organizations to which you belong
- Internet on-line discussion groups, chat rooms, etc.
- Anyone else you know (e.g. high school teachers, family doctors, clergyperson, coaches, etc.)
Your first-tier contacts may lead to a hiring opportunity, but most likely will garner referrals to second-tier contacts that are more closely involved with your targeted industry, field, or position. Be sure to keep your first-tier contacts informed of your progress and send thank-you notes!
When you get referrals to these second-tier contacts who are closer to your target, strategic networking begins, laying the foundation for possible hiring. These are the contacts with whom you will have more in-depth discussions about your career development, get advice and job leads and possibly interview for a position. Practice your “sound bite” (brief introduction) and “commercial” (longer introduction) before initiating contact through phone, mail, email or in person.
You can network everywhere you go, especially wherever people gather, but the following locations work best for successful networkers:
- Professional organizations
- Volunteer organizations
- Charity and fundraising events
- Civic and community groups
- Religious communities
- Golf course, tennis/racquetball court, health club
- Political campaign events
- Chamber of commerce
- Your hometown
- Your dream organization’s favorite hangout (e.g. bar)
- Cocktail parties
- Convention and trade shows
- Book clubs
- Continuing education programs
- Alumni associations, reunions, and networks
- Newspaper business section
People don’t mind being “used” but don’t want to be taken for granted (Hansen 2000). Be sure to:
Know your purpose for networking: Don’t waste contacts’ time by being unsure of how you want them to help.
Do your homework: Be prepared to ask questions that can’t easily be found through a little research.
Don’t act desperate: Be positive and upbeat. Smile and have fun. Fear and negativity are turn-offs to contacts.
Reciprocate: Offer help to your contacts and supply needed information whenever possible. Follow through!
Listen: Don’t monopolize or rush the conversation.
Respect your contacts’ time: Remember time zone differences, be brief and to the point and always ask if a contact has time to visit with you.
Get permission and give credit when sharing a referral’s source.
Be careful using the word “networking”: The overuse of this word makes some contacts wary. Think of seeking advice, making connections and building relationships.
Informational interviews - or “curious conversations” - are basically extended conversations with your network of contacts that help you gather information first-hand from people who do the work in which you are interested. Just as you would for a job interview, you should prepare for an informational interview:
Research: Assess yourself, your purpose for contacting your network, what you have to offer your contact and your goals. Also research your contact’s career field, specific employers and background in preparation for asking well-informed questions. Use the Internet, library, CCPD staff, alumni, etc.
Resumes: Bring some copies to your interview to provide background information to your contact, reinforce points of your introduction, and potentially get a critique.
Attire: Dress on the conservative side, clean and presentable. You wouldn’t go wrong in a business suit, though business casual is more common.
Discussion topics: Conversations typically last 20-30 minutes and involve asking questions about:
- Your contact’s career field
- Your contact’s specific employer
- Your contact’s specific job
- Preparation for the career field
- Your contact’s career path
- Organizational culture of your contact’s employer(s)
- Opportunities for advancement
- General advice and referrals
- You may also be asked questions about yourself, your career interests, your experience and skills and your coursework. Always ask your contact for more referrals! Learn more about the important resource of Informational Interviewing.
All of your preparation can be undone if you fail to thank those who help you. Acknowledge everyone in your network, not just those in a position to hire you, with thank-you notes. In addition, send follow-up notes keeping your contacts informed of your progress and the results of the advice they gave you.
LinkedIn.com is the most powerful professional social networking site to connect job seekers and employers, as well as a great tool for those individuals seeking to learn about a variety of career options. You can also get helpful advice from these handouts, provided by LinkedIn:
One of the most important resources for students and alumni is other alumni. All students and graduates of SU are members of the SU Alumni Association, free of charge. The SU Office of Alumni Relations provides numerous ways for alumni to connect with each other and with current students:
An exclusive virtual community for SU students, alumni, parents, faculty/staff, and friends to network and take part in one-to-one mentorship.
This comprehensive online, password-protected alumni directory can be accessed directly by alumni and students. Students, use your SU login/password. Alumni, receive a login and password by contacting Alumni Relations at email@example.com. Once logged in, conduct searches by criteria such as vocation and geographic location.
Alumni Connections Groups
Looking for like-minded people? Whether your shared interest is occupational, social, political, etc., Alumni Connections Groups help you connect with SU grads around that interest.
Southwestern University Alumni and Friends LinkedIn Group
Be sure to use professional networking sites like LinkedIn.com. In particular, join the Association of Southwestern University Alumni and Friends group on LinkedIn for access to more than 1,000 SU alumni interested in sharing professional connections.
Alumni groups in particular geographic locations can be great resources, especially if you’re moving to that new location.
Events such as the SOAR Summit teach students the basics of mingling and networking. Students can practice these skills at the Career Connections BBQ, where they can visit with alumni and other guests. Alumni also provide advice and serve as networking contacts through a variety of events, including the Careers in… series. Check our calendar of upcoming events.