If you’re a recent college grad, you may have read this article title and thought to yourself, “But I don’t even have a field yet!” Well, maybe you don’t have an established career, but you did focus on a particular subject in college, and had to meet students, faculty, and maybe some alumni within your major or specialty. This is where the network within your particular field begins: the people with whom you formed a connection in college. By using these people as resources—and extending your network whenever you get the opportunity—you’ll be putting yourself in a great position to find a job within the field that most interests you. Here’s how to maximize your network.
Stay in touch with professors and career counselors. Just because you’ve graduated doesn’t mean the doors of your college are closed to you forever. Maybe you won’t be going back as a student, but you can still contact your university’s career counselors or any professors in your department to see if they have any connections in your field of interest. Make sure that you’re asking for specific guidance when you email an old professor; for example, instead of saying, “I have an Culinary Arts degree from Kendall College and I want to get connections so I can get a job,” say something like, “I want to use my Culinary degree to work in a professional restaurant setting to gain experience—do you know anyone in that field that I could talk to?” Always be sure to follow up with a thank-you note or email after a professor or counselor has helped you.
Connect with people in your college’s alumni network. Most colleges have an email listserv or newsletter that alumni can subscribe to in order to connect with other professionals who went to their college. A lot of bigger cities will also have in-person alumni gatherings, so you can meet and network with people who share your alma mater. People who are well-established in their career often love giving advice or hiring recommendations to recent grads who share their interests, so don’t be shy about contacting alumni in your field and asking them about the best way to start a career.
Know your elevator pitch. An elevator pitch is a short spiel about the skills and knowledge you would bring to a job—the type of summary you’d be able to give in less than the length of the average elevator ride. It’s important to have an elevator pitch because you never know when you’re going to run into someone who could help advance your career goals, and you’re likely only going to have a short amount of time to explain your goals and qualifications. In order to give a good pitch, you should figure out your concrete career goals (e.g. to work as a copywriter at an ad agency) and know how your skills and knowledge would make you a good fit for that position. Even if you don’t have a lot of work experience, play up other types of relevant experience (for example, maybe you designed the ad campaign for a campus concert series). Keep your pitch professional, and make sure it shows how you would benefit an employer, not just how an employer would benefit you.
Build your network online. Although many people may dislike the idea of networking becoming an online realm, the fact is that social media is now an essential part of the networking process. If you don’t already have a LinkedIn profile, make one. This will provide you with a platform to succinctly share your qualifications and experience while connecting with others in your field. Every time you connect with someone through your alma mater or at a networking event, see if they have a LinkedIn account so that you can add them. This will allow you a way to organize your contacts and easily get in touch with someone who may be able to help you.
Be willing to help others in your network. The main thing to remember about networking is that it’s not all about you—you should be able to help out others in your network if they ask. And the more you help out—by giving someone an introduction to someone in their field, writing a letter of recommendation, etc.—the more willing people will be to help you out in return.
Don’t fear networking if you’re a recent graduate. While networking events and interviews with potential employers might feel uncomfortable at first, you’ll gain confidence over time and be able to show other professionals what you can bring to your field.
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