Developing your professional network will be far more valuable than uploading your resume to every listing site on the internet.
If you want to build your career and not just find a job, developing your professional network will be far more valuable than uploading your resume to every listing site on the internet.
Where to start
Just do it: Put yourself out there, don’t dismiss anyone as unhelpful and be gracious to everyone you meet. You never know who may connect you to a great opportunity. Rather than view your network as a bunch of people you may eventually be able to “use,” approach it as a chance to meet interesting, diverse people who will expand your world and introduce you to new experiences, whether they be jobs or not. Don’t limit yourself to the short-term goal of finding a job; invest in relationships that you can carry with you for years to come.
Certainly, networking can be daunting when you’re early in your career and don’t have a lot to show for yourself. And especially if you’re shy, it may be even harder to initiate conversations with people you barely know who are older and more experienced. The truth, however, is that many of us genuinely enjoy using our successes to help someone else who shows promise and ambition. I encourage my peers to become mentors all the time, so they can see how rewarding it is to get a youthful perspective and use their experience to further someone else’s career.
How to grow it
LinkedIn is a great place to connect with potential mentors as well as people who might be looking to hire. You can also visit the pages of companies that interest you and find names of people in the department where you’d like to work. But just like blindly sharing your resume won’t guarantee results, you need to do more than send strangers invitations to connect online. Craft a personalized message to each person explaining your goals, why you consider this person a role model, and why you deserve a half-hour of their time.
You’re also going to have to approach people in the real world. Step outside your comfort zone, attend industry functions and meetups, and request informational interviews with people in roles to which you aspire. The worst that can happen is they say “no, thanks” or don’t respond. I’m in my college’s alumni database and have indicated I’m open to hearing from recent grads seeking advice. Your school very likely has a similar network for finding established professionals in your target field.
Continuing education is another avenue for meetings others involved in your industry — both teachers and fellow students. Ask where others have worked, how they found their jobs and whether they’d be willing to make introductions for you. Connect online to see who else they know.
And, while you don’t want to turn every fun activity into a professional networking session, keep your eyes and ears open when you’re socializing too. There might be someone in your book club, church or spin class who knows someone at your dream company. As long as you’re respectful and not overbearing, it can’t hurt to let people know you’re looking for career help.
How to use it
Above all, remember you are asking people to give you something: their time, their advice, their support. You’re asking for a favor, so be gracious, patient and receptive, whether they’re in a position to offer you work or not.
Listen more than you talk. Be curious, open-minded and flexible, rather than having a fixed agenda and set of expectations. If you’ve had a good first meeting but aren’t sure where to go from there, ask if you can continue to check in with them occasionally and seek their guidance when you’re prepping for important interviews. See if they’ll keep you in mind for an internship or even a freelance project.
Walking away from a networking meeting or informational interview without a promise is not a failure. You’re building relationships and your career, not job hunting. This is the beginning of a conversation that could last for years if it holds value for both of you