Building meaningful connections takes time, so if you are graduating in May, you may want to start connecting with potential career connections today. Check out 10 ideas that can help you smooth the path.
Pay attention to course content you like, participate in class and show instructors your genuine interest in the topics discussed. Follow up with appointments during office hours, and avoid simply asking questions about assignments; instead, seek their advice on resources and influencers.
“If there are professors with whom you've built strong relationships, they'll likely have advice and suggestions on industry leaders and alumni you could meet to learn more about different fields and job opportunities," says Alyssa Best, a career coach who works with students and recent graduates in her private practice and at American University. “They might even offer to set up a few introductions on your behalf!"
“Alumni are often happy to offer advice to students from their alma mater," says Best. Most academic institutions have online platforms where students can connect with alumni, but you can also use sites like LinkedIn. “Search for people doing interesting work or living in cities you'd like to move to after graduation," Best advises.
Before reaching out, it's a good idea to update and polish your profile. You can also “look for opportunities to speak to alumni on campus through career fairs, networking receptions and panels," Best adds. When participants are announced, research them and identify those of interest to you. Prepare to ask questions, and avoid waiting until after the event to speak with alumni. Raising your hand and asking a thoughtful question will help you stand out.
“As I was graduating from college, one of the best pieces of advice I received (from my mom!) was to identify and speak to three professionals doing work I found interesting," Best shares. “After having conversations with folks in different sectors, one of the most valuable takeaways was that none of these career paths seemed the right fit for me."
Exploring potential career paths sometimes means finding out what you don't want to do. Informational interviews helped Best “refocus [her] career exploration elsewhere," which eventually led her to the role of a career coach. If an informational interview goes well, consider staying in touch with that professional and even asking them to be your mentor. “Having a mentor is a phenomenal way to learn about an industry and about yourself," says Mary Somers, associate director of coaching and education at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School. “The guidance that a mentor provides can have a lifelong, positive impact on your career." Check out this article for more on the benefits of mentoring.
I'm based in Washington, D.C., and encourage my students to attend events organized by embassies, some of which are free and offer the opportunity to practice small talk while learning about a new culture. Events at the Smithsonian museums and live Moth StorySLAMs are other wonderful opportunities to make new connections. What's happening in your neck of the woods? Explore interesting events to grow and diversify your network. If you are nervous about attending, grab a friend!
“Opportunities to create connections happen in the most unexpected places -- coffee shops, meetup groups, painting classes, bookstores -- so you should always be ready," Somers says. “For this to happen, you have to get out of your dorm room and be willing to introduce yourself." Making valuable connections is not about luck; it's about getting out of your comfort zone and engaging with a diverse group of people.
A couple years ago I worked with a student interested in healthcare administration. After coming up with a list of target hospitals, he reached out to administrators to introduce himself and propose shadowing. One of the administrators responded and after shadowing him for a month, my student received a full-time offer. Shadowing refers to the action of following a professional -- with permission -- to observe what their days look like and learn about the ups and downs of their roles. Shadowing can help you confirm that an opportunity is the right fit and it lets you peek into the company's culture. Shadowing can last hours, days or even weeks; it depends on the professional's availability and interest.
If you have not already done so, complete an internship. Internships allow you to connect with professionals in target companies and explore positions to determine fit. On occasion, internships may result in full-time offers, so approaching them strategically, by identifying specific goals, is vital. If completing an internship while managing a full courseload doesn't seem appealing, consider externships. Externships are similar to internships but are shorter and allow for experiential, hands-on learning. An externship fits perfectly into shorter breaks, such us the winter break coming up. Externships are set up as partnerships between an educational institution and an employer so you may want to check with your career center to see if the option is available to you.
Whether you are a young professional who wants to grow in a particular field or an experienced professional looking for a change, find professional associations in your field. They seek to promote a specific profession, allow for exchange of information related to that profession and provide opportunities for members to engage and learn from each other. Many offer reduced student rates to join and also host large-scale conferences accompanied by a career fair. These so-called affinity conferences are especially valuable if you are attending smaller colleges that may not be on your target employer's radar. The best part is that you can make connections with employers as well as with other young professionals interested in the same field.
Volunteering lets you engage with people you would not otherwise meet. Many students assume that to successfully network, they should only connect with people in their field. Although those connections are important, you will have access to more opportunities with a diverse group of connections. Diversification works for investments and it works for building meaningful connections. So be creative in your choice of volunteer options! For example, TEDx events often call for volunteers and what better way to connect with influencers in a variety of fields than a TEDx event?
Strategic use of social media can make it easier to engage with influencers in a specific field. “Twitter is a fabulous way to connect directly with experts in your field. Retweet their comments and reach out to ask questions. People love to talk about themselves and their work, and this can create a great opportunity to communicate directly," Somers says. Also, check out relevant books, podcasts and blogs to keep abreast of new developments and identify potential influencers. You may even find opportunities and employers you didn't know existed! Want to take this to the next level? Consider creating original content and publishing on LinkedIn or other platforms to have people reach out to you.
Nervous about making connections? Start with who you know. Making connections doesn't have to be about reaching out to complete strangers. Your family, friends and your friends' families all have connections. As you clarify what you may want to pursue, share your goals with your immediate network, and you may end up with a lead to one of the previously mentioned strategies.
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