This question is frequently asked before any position is posted on a job board in an organization. I have been a member of several hiring committees, and we always start a search by listing out the names of people we know who might be interested in the position and reach out accordingly. Organizations always want the “best fit”, culturally and skillfully, and that “best fit” is not always easy to find. Relying on connections we already have often makes it easier to fill positions, and many companies provide incentives for referral-based hiring these days since it helps with recruiting and retaining great talent.
On the flip side, when potential applicants are on a job hunt, the first thing they think about is their resume, which is great…because formatting and content matters. However, many times, resumes come second to relationship building in the job search process. Research shows that up to 85% of positions are filled via networking; they are filled by either internal employees or through referrals. Even more data suggests that 70-80% of jobs aren’t even posted before they’re filled. It’s not just about who you know but who knows you and can speak to your qualifications when you are not around.
In short, students need to learn to master the art of networking to help them in their goal of obtaining employment post-graduation. Most students do not realize that many experienced professionals enjoy helping and giving advice to young people. Most students also do not realize that experienced professionals are greatly impressed when “go-getters” seek them out.
This past year, I had a freshman in a basic communication course who had been assigned to interview someone in her potential field (business). Brilliant assignment, right? It pushed students out of their comfort zones, but most students want to interview someone they already know, like a family friend or relative. It’s great to utilize your existing connections, but it’s not the best way to grow a network.
So when my student told me she admired my passion for my job but had no desire to teach herself, I told her not to interview me. Instead, I thought about how she could combine her passions and turn them into a career. I knew that she loved to run and wanted to help people, so I searched “Olympics” on LinkedIn (an amazing resource to find professionals in their respective industries) and found the profile of an executive from the Olympic Training Center in Colorado. When I read his bio I noticed that he had several things in common with my student, so I told her about him. (Relationship building starts with finding commonalities, after all). She reached out to him, and they had a great phone conversation a few days later. He was very impressed that she was already networking at the age of 18 and spoke about potential internships she might look into down the road.
The point of that story is, once you find your passions, you can use them to build a career path, but you need to rely on your networking skills to propel you forward. Since most jobs are not even posted, it is vital to start making connections and good impressions so that others remember you. The world seems huge, but industries are quite small once you start finding your passions. So how do you start making these connections? I’ve compiled a brief list to master the art of networking:
To make the most of networking, youshould first know your why. Know what you desire. People want to know how they can help you, but you first need to know what it is YOU want enough to articulate it to someone else in conversation. If you are unsure about what you are passionate about, a good book to check out is Start with Why, by Simon Sinek.
Next, create a LinkedIn account and use it in a way that gives you a competitive advantage. Start with a professional headshot and a unique bio that separates you from everyone else. Everyone has a story; this is an opportunity to start yours, and as my friend and National Elevator Pitch Champion, Chris Westfall says, gives others the chance to say “tell me more.”
Follow people on LinkedIn within the industry you seek and you’ll start seeing things they post. This can help you become more knowledgeable in the field. Pay attention to the authors of the articles they post and then look them up. Follow them too and so on. If you would like to do more than just follow them, send an invite to connect. Find a commonality and send a professionally-written email that is unique. This should be concise and to the point.
If you would truly like to ask their advice on the industry, do not be afraid to send an email to request 10 minutes of their time to learn more about what they do. People typically do not feel put out by giving up 10 minutes of their time. If they do not respond, do not feel bummed. The fear of rejection is real, but if you don’t ask, the answer is always going to be “no” anyway. Someone will eventually respond. Think of rejection as divine redirection.
Participate in community service that is MEANINGFUL to you. Do not solely do it to rack up service hours for an organization for which you belong. Participating in something meaningful allows you to create more connections with people who have the same interests. If you can assist in a service project that is related to your career, that is a double-bonus!
Attend every single networking event that makes you feel uncomfortable. Truthfully, any public space gives you an opportunity to network and connect with people. Do you like yoga? Do you like the dog park? Whatever your interest, others will be there with a common one. People do not know you exist until you let them know you exist. Be prepared to tell people about your interests and how you can potentially collaborate with them once you find that commonality. You never know where one conversation might lead.
To wrap this up, it’s important to know that it is never too early to start meeting people. It’s also important to be you…authentically you, in every conversation – you will be seen as more genuine that way. And finally, remember that it’s not all about you – it’s about collaboration, and so every relationship should be a mutually beneficial one. Find your tribe and your networking circle will continue to grow. Opportunities will follow.