As you look for internship and job opportunities, it’s likely that you have a substantial network to help you in your search, whether you realize it or not. In this post, I will identify some people in your existing network and suggest ways that you may be able to cultivate new contacts.
People in Your Existing Network
Parents and family. While you don’t want your parents running your internship or job search (as discussed in Lanie James’ post), they can certainly offer guidance and wisdom. They can also put you in touch with any of their friends who may be working in your desired industry. In this competitive job market, you need every advantage you can get. Don’t feel bad about reaching out to your parents or extended family for help with gathering information for the job search.
Friends, classmates, and roommates. Each person that you interact with on a daily basis has his/her own network of contacts. For this reason, let all of your peers know about your job search so that they can connect you with relevant people in their networks. Maybe your sorority sister’s uncle is the Vice-President at an organization you’re interested in, or perhaps your basketball teammate used to work for the recruiter at your dream company. You never know where connections may spring up.
Professors. If you’re in an academic program where most of your professors were practitioners before going into teaching, you’ve hit the jackpot. Professors can be an extremely valuable source of industry knowledge and connections. Even if your professors spent their entire lives in the academy, they may still have relevant connections in organizations where you’d like to work.
Internship supervisors and colleagues. If you’d like to go back and work full-time at the organization where you interned, you will obviously want to stay in close contact with your supervisor and/or colleagues. But, what if you want to work somewhere else? Your previous co-workers can still be helpful. Especially in industries where the same employees tend to get swapped among a small circle of companies (i.e. ad agencies), ties to people at other organizations may be very strong.
Ways to Expand Your Network
Alumni connections. Most universities have a program in place to connect students with alumni for career networking purposes. Visit your career center and see if you can get in touch with a few alumni who are working in your desired industry and geographic location. Try connecting with a cross section of people – both experienced and junior-level- because each will have a unique perspective to share. In addition to traditional school networks, also tap into your fraternity or sorority alumni networks.
LinkedIn. By joining relevant LinkedIn groups, you gain access to a number of professionals in your industry. You can also search LinkedIn by company name to find people working at specific organizations. Once you’re ready to make contact with some of these new finds, you simply need to send a brief message explaining who you are and why you’d like to connect. LinkedIn is a great platform for facilitating introductions; I’d always encourage you to take LinkedIn connections offline (i.e. to phone or in-person conversations).
Ask for referrals. Probably the most valuable way to expand your network is to ask for referrals from the people with whom you come in contact. Once someone understands what you’re looking for- information about a career field, tips on interviewing for a particular type of position, advice on moving to a new geographic location- it is relatively easy for him or her to recommend others with whom you might benefit from speaking.
Above all, be mindful that networking is a two-way exchange. As you’re tapping into existing connections and meeting new friends, find ways to give back to the people who assist you.
These are just a few tips to begin identifying the breadth of your network and expanding upon it. There are many additional ways to build connections – from attending networking events and joining professional organizations, to randomly encountering someone in an elevator or grocery store.
This is an area where I’d love to hear from college students and recent grads about what worked for you! How did you expand the reach of your network as you pursued your first job?