As job fair season rolls around on college campuses nationwide, it is important to remember that some of the best job opportunities don’t come from applying through job portals or collecting business cards at recruiting events—it comes through networking. However, for most people, the idea of networking creates anxiety and nervousness: nervousness to make meaningless small talk with people you don’t know, nervousness about making a great impression amongst hundreds of your qualified peers, and nervousness about how to network in the first place. Here are four tips to put your best foot forward and to make the most of your connections in the job search—even if you hate networking.
1. Don’t be afraid to talk about your experience, but also listen to the experience of others.
The most awkward part about networking is talking about your own experience. However, the only way for others to know how they can connect you to relevant opportunities is if they know what you’re interested in. When people ask you about your career goals and interests, make sure to embed some of your own work experience into those interests. If you want to be a writer, talk about your goals as a writer, what things you like to write about, and what you’ve written about already.
However, while talking about your experience, it’s also important to pay attention to the experience of others. Listen to their stories and what they’ve done. Point out your interest in what they’re doing, or that you might want to do something similar, or where you’ve worked in a similar field or capacity. By doing this, you’re identifying opportunities for job connections, and doing half the work of networking your way to the top.
2. Follow up with everyone you meet, but thoughtfully
Always follow up after you meet someone at an event. Shoot them an email, add them on LinkedIn and send a message, do something. But always make sure to follow up.
But don’t simply say, “It was great to meet you, and I hope to see you again.” Think back to your conversation with them. Maybe you both were really interested in politics; maybe he or she worked in a really cool field that you were interested in. Make sure to follow up thoughtfully—include a link to an article that you read recently that relates to your conversation, or mention that you really enjoyed talking about something specific with them. Even if you can’t send an article, ask a followup question about something you had talked about, or more about the work they do. Recruiters get tons of followup emails, so it’s important to stand out and make sure that they remember you and want to keep the conversation going after an event.
3. Connect your friends with others
If you have connections to job opportunities and know of friends that are interested in them, connect them with those opportunities. The biggest part of networking is reciprocity—if you help someone, chances are they will help you when you’re looking for an opportunity as well. It is a two way street, and unless you connect others with opportunities, it will be hard for others to connect you with opportunities. Just make sure to exercise caution—if you recommend a flaky friend for a job, it won’t just look bad for your friend, it will look bad for you.
4. Network with your peers
Networking doesn’t just have to occur between you and recruiters. Oftentimes, your friends have existing networks, either through their parents or past jobs or internships. Be open with your friends about the kinds of jobs you are looking for, and chances are they will have some connection that they can use to help you.
Additionally, 10 years from now, you and your friends will be leaders in your own career fields. Your friend in your international relations class may be working at the State Department one day, and your friend in your journalism class might be writing for the Washington Post. Keep in touch with friends, both personally and professionally, because in the long-run these connections will be there to help you.
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