You might think of networking as something you’ll get to once your career takes off. But professional networking draws on the same skills you use every day in your social circle, and it is a crucial element of any graduate job search, even for recent graduates.
Networking: why and how
If you’re still wondering whether networking is worth the investment for you, consider things from a hiring manager’s perspective. Recruitment takes time, and the earlier a hiring manager knows of a qualified candidate, the better. If your name comes up even before the role is advertised, you may be the only candidate interviewed for the job. You may even find yourself invited to discuss a role before its description is set in stone, giving you a chance to adjust it to your strengths and preferences. That kind of opportunity arises through networking.
Let’s take a closer look at why networking is such an effective strategy for recent graduates.
What networking can do for you
Ask any recruiter how they’d prefer to fill a given position and they’ll tell you that internal hiring is the quickest and surest way to place qualified people in the right roles. Networking is a close second.
Recruiters prefer candidates referred to them by informal network for a number of reasons:
- Someone the recruiter knows and trusts has vouched for you
- It saves time: following the graduate interview, recruiters can make an offer without writing job descriptions and placing adverts
- It saves money: when vacancies are filled quickly, operations can proceed more smoothly
The benefits of networking are even greater for you. For example:
- You’ll learn of jobs, and perhaps even interview for them, before they are advertised
- You’ll move the odds in your favour – instead of being one of hundreds of candidates, you might be one of only a few
- Most importantly, you will learn about your field and the people who work in it
How to start networking
In case you’re worried about how to start building your network, take comfort in the fact that you’ve been practicing all your life. Networking is just a slightly more deliberate way of establishing relationships with people, with a bit of an ulterior motive.
Begin by getting your LinkedIn profile together; our graduate guide to LinkedIn shows you how. Then contact draw up a list of everyone you know who knows someone who has a job in the fields that interest you. If you have work experience, include former managers and colleagues. Parents and their friends should be on the list, along with professors, careers staff, and alumni from university.
Next, contact everyone on your list and let them know that you are looking for a job. This might be uncomfortable at first, but everyone on your list will understand your situation, and most will appreciate your initiative. Many people on your list will not have a job on offer, but they might recommend a friend or colleague of their own. Be sure to ask for permission to mention the name of anyone who refers you to a new contact.
You should also prepare for some cold calling: contacting people who do the sort of work you’d like to, and seeing what they have to say. This can take a bit more nerve than contacting people you already know, which makes this a great time to consult a mentor.
The power of mentorship
Mentors are not just for mid-career employees, there are plenty of benefits of mentoring for a graduate. The right mentor can help you think of your job search as a job in and of itself, and can help guide you in the right direction.
For example, many graduate job seekers are hesitant to start building their networks, and even more shudder at the thought of picking up the phone and introducing themselves to strangers. A mentor can help put your networking efforts in perspective (“Don’t be shy—who wouldn’t like to take ten minutes out of their day to discuss their job?”) and coach you with interview tips to land your graduate job.
Of course, mentors tend to be well-connected themselves. A good mentor can help you make connections that you may have missed, and might even introduce you directly to members of their own network.
Build your network in 5 steps
1. Get started
- List your contacts
- If a given contact can’t help, ask if they know someone who can
- Keep your list up to date and growing
2. Define your network
- Set clear goals and expectations: if you want a career in journalism, talk to journalists
- Talk with a mentor to learn how good networkers operate
3. Reach out
- State your agenda clearly and concisely
- Respect others’ schedules: if this isn’t a good time to talk, suggest another
- Use the medium that suits you best: phone calls, text messages, or email
4. Manage rejection
- Some contacts won’t have the time or inclination to help—and that’s fine
- Think about why your message failed, and address any issues that spring to mind, then put it all behind you
- Be persistent—the more valuable the contact, the less time they may have to speak with you
5. Keep building your network
- Networking is about relationships, and relationships take time
- Remember that you are part of your contacts’ networks, too
- Check in with contacts when their circumstances change
One network, many roles
Your network will include people representing a wide range of job roles. Each will mean something a bit different to your career, and some may be more directly valuable to you five years from now than they are today. That’s all the more reason to stay in touch with your entire network, and to keep it growing.
Here are some of the roles common to most professional networks:
The mentor has reached a level of success to which you aspire and is willing to share the benefit of their experience.
The coach helps you make important decisions at critical stages of your career.
The connector is a master networker who is happy to share resources with you and introduce you to others.
The insider knows your industry inside and out, and can be a terrific judge of whether your ideas have merit or need further development.
The trendsetter, on the other hand, works outside your industry, and can help you make innovative connections before others do.
These aren’t hard-and-fast roles: some individuals will fit more than one. When you speak with a member of your network, however, it may be helpful to remember where they fit in, and what they can do for you. And what you can do for them.