Career Advice

How Recent Grads Can Build A Professional Network

Recent college graduates have the advantage of growing up with technology but that same reliance on the Internet, mobile phones and tablet computers can hurt them when it comes to building their professional network.

NetworkingYes, being on social networks like LinkedIn is extremely important for successful networking but it’s often those face-to-face connections that help them out over the long haul.

“Students in this generation are so electronic and virtual, but they need to get physical,” says Steven Canale, manager, global recruiting and staffing services at General Electric. College grads “have to make the time to establish personal relationships with people over a cup of coffee or a drink. They should guard against sitting in their dorm room and being online 24/7.”

Forging real life relationships can be intimidating to recent college graduates but often there are a slew of contacts they already know.  In addition to tapping family and friends, experts say job seekers have to capitalize on their campus or school alumni associations. “You’ve spent four years there and likely built relationships with the teacher’s assistant, faculty advisors as well as peers and class mates,” says Amanda Snow, manager of campus recruiting at PNC. “You can always reconnect with people,” she says.  Even getting the word out among friends and family can yield a job seeker connections that may eventually lead to a new gig. “Think about that friend who might have relationships or work in a certain industry you are looking to explore. He or she could give you ideas or insight into what it’s like,” she says.

A common mistake college graduates often make when building their professional network is they don’t look to the past but only to the future, says Tom Gimbel, President and CEO of LaSalle Network, a Chicago-based staffing firm. “If a graduate made a list of everyone they have worked with at every company they have ever had, then they’d have an existing network,” says Gimbel. “They have people who are successful…people who have good jobs…people who can help. That sharp administrative assistant to the president of the first company could now be an executive assistant to the CFO of a Fortune 500 company and is looking to hire someone.”

In order for a college graduates to build a professional network that will help them succeed in their career, they need to make sure they are joining groups and associations in the field they are pursuing. For instance, if you want an engineering job, then you should make sure you are a member of your local professional engineering association. Often these groups will have networking events that will give graduates a chance to meet and connect with people in their chosen industry. It’s also important that all of the contacts in the network aren’t only engineers. “You have to build a broad based network and not make it too narrowly focused,” says Canale. “Just because you are in engineering there’s no reason you can’t have business people in your network.”

According to Gimbel, a great way college graduates can practice networking and potentially even land a job is to attend career fairs. But before hitting the job fair circuit, Gimbel says students should get a list of employers that will be in attendance and research the companies they are interested in. Whether it’s at a job fair or an informal meeting with a former professor, career experts say its behooves college graduates to have an elevator speech prepared ahead of time so that they aren’t stumbling through a conversation or wasting valuable time with a potential contact talking about the weather. One of the first things a college graduate will be asked is what they want to do and according to Canale, the graduate shouldn’t be stumbling through the answer.

At the end of the day a networking relationship usually grows because there is back and forth between the two parties. While college graduates don’t have much to bring to the table, especially if they are seeking the advice of a seasoned professional, if they figure out what they want to accomplish from the relationship ahead of time it will go a long way in fostering a lasting contact. The college graduates also have to make sure he or she is maintaining the relationship once it is created and not viewing it as a one-off type of thing. “It’s great to have a lot of connections but if you aren’t maintaining them it’s not going to be as successful for you,” says Snow. “You have to keep that communication going.”