By Noël Rozny
Web Editor & Content Manager
You can go to your college career center to get help with your resume. You can find someone to teach you how to work the spreadsheets in Excel. But college students: there’s one career skill you’ll need when you graduate that no one can teach you.
And that’s how to network.
According to Harvard Business School, 65 to 85 percent of jobs are found through networking. But unfortunately, you can’t go to a class or hire a coach to teach you how to network. Networking is a skill that has many layers: you’ll need to be able to identify the right connections, grow those relationships, and utilize them when the time is right.
And unfortunately, networking isn’t a one-size-fits-all type of skill: a pitch and process that works for one job seeker won’t necessarily be successful for a job seeker in a different industry, position or point in their career. That’s why college students need to start developing their own approach before graduation. Here’s how.
College Students: How to Build Your Networking Approach
Step #1: Start Socially
I get it – networking can be really intimidating, especially when you’re attending one of those monster meet-up in events that requires walking into a room full of strangers and starting a conversation.
When you’re new to the networking world, it makes sense to start small, as in social networking. Each week, take the time grow your network on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter. Getting to know people online is pretty low-risk, and once you feel you’ve established a good rapport with someone, you can ask to meet up for coffee or lunch. Which brings me to my next point …
Step #2: Practice In Person
Social network is a great way to identify possible connections and narrow those down to the ones you think will be the most useful to you. But sooner or later, you’ll need to make that all-important face-to-face connection.
Meeting with people one-on-one, rather than in a large group, is a great way to get more comfortable and hone your approach. You can start with someone you know, such as a former high school counselor, teacher, or coach. Let them know you’re loved to speak with them about their careers, and ask them if they’re willing to meet for lunch or coffee. As you get more confident with these types of meetings, you can graduate from speaking to those you already know to contacting professionals in your future field or industry to introduce yourself.
(One thing to note: If you’re inviting someone out, be prepared to pick up the tab, since they’re doing you the favor of taking the time to meet with you.)
Step #3: Develop Your Technique
This is the real reason why no one else can teach you how to network: You have to have your own technique. Some people are able to walk into an event and start talking to a total stranger about their business plans, while others feel more comfortable starting with a softer approach and more small talk.
There isn’t a right or wrong answer here: you have to find what works for you and your personality type. Keep in mind that you want to find an approach that allows you to learn about the other person, while also explaining who you are, what you’re looking for and providing (this is known as an elevator pitch), and how you’d like to connect. The more you practice, the more you’ll know how to incorporate all of these elements in a way that feels natural and comfortable – and that’s how you’ll make great impressions and lasting relationships.
Step #4: Schedule Follow Up
This is where most wannabe networkers drop the ball: they attend an event, find a great contact who could help them find a job or get an interview, and then they fail to follow up.
If you meet with someone, make sure you follow up with a thank you note or email afterwards. Then, schedule a time in your calendar to follow up with them and to follow up with any business you discussed. For example, if you meet with a professor who help you arrange an interview, follow up after the appointment and let him or her know how it went.
If you repeat these steps with one new contact each week, you’ll be able to hone your networking approach pretty quickly while you simultaneously grow your list of contacts, meaning you’ll be in great shape by the time college graduation rolls around.