The job market is still competitive, especially for recent college graduates, which means networking is a critical step to landing a job.
Most college graduates know to tap their campus career center and personal networks for leads, but there are a host of unique places they can network during their daily activities.
“Young professionals can strike up a conversation at different locations,” says Amanda Snow, manager of campus recruiting at PNC. “It could be in a coffee shop standing in line…when they are out shopping or in an airport or on a train.”
According to career experts when it comes to forging professional relationships, college graduates have to think outside of the box. Yes, they better have a LinkedIn page and join groups on that popular social network, and yes, they should tap their school’s alumni program, but they should also think of networking anywhere an opportunity may arise. “It starts with having a conversation,” says Snow. “Every conversation opens a door.”
But before college graduates can strike up a conversation with another professional they need to put the effort in to become an expert in their chosen industry. For instance, if they are aiming to become a marketing executive then it’s a good idea to follow the blogs and Twitter accounts of the leaders in that industry. College graduates can also build a reputation as someone in the know by sharing interesting industry specific articles on LinkedIn or on Twitter. Dan Schawbel, founder of Millennial Branding and author of Promote Yourself, says it’s also a good idea to brush up or hone in on skills using websites like skillshare.com, which offers free and paid courses in different categories. “If you are very knowledgeable then you will have much more to say,” says Schawbel.
While it may seem scary to strike up a conversation with the person sitting next to you on the train or in line at Starbucks, career experts say it’s often those little conversations that can lead to deeper relationships and thus jobs. Although the ultimate goal is to further your career, experts say it’s not wise for an accounting major to approach a stranger on the train who he or she overheard talking about taxes and ask for a job. That accounting grad could chime in about a new rule he or she learned about or ask the person to explain more about his or her field. “People love to talk about what they do,” says Snow. “You might not get a job interview out of it but you could get insight into that industry.”
It’s not only those random interactions with strangers that will build a college graduate’s professional network and open employment doors for them. Schawbel says college graduates should join professional associations in the industry they are interested in and attend those associations’ events.
According to Aravinda Rao Souza, senior marketing manager at Bullhorn, the maker of HR software, professional conferences and associations are rife for networking, largely because you can engage in conversations with a variety of different people potentially even including the speakers. “Joining industry associations and member organizations might involve an upfront investment, but they usually have reduced rates for students or junior members, and you can meet some fantastic people,” says Rao Souza.
Since recent college graduates have grown up with technology and are comfortable using the Internet to communicate, experts say there are a host of ways to network online outside of the usual suspects: LinkedIn and Facebook. For instance Schawbel points to Meetup.com, the website that lets groups of like-minded people create events and meetings and volunteermatch.org which matches would-be volunteers with organizations based on their skills. “Don’t be afraid to get out there and don’t focus on how to get a job,” says Schawbel. “It’s more about how to meet people.”