The summer in between graduating high school and starting college, my Dad “made me” take a summer job with a friend of his at a local nonprofit in Buffalo. I would be helping while someone was on leave by filing, stuffing envelopes, mailing new hire packets, answering incoming calls, taking meeting minutes, you name it. I came in every day and did as I was asked.
After a few weeks, I learned that if I listened to everything going on around me and then offered to help or meet a need, it made everyone’s day. By the end of the summer, I was helping with scheduling interviews, sitting in on interviews and taking notes, and helping with event planning. At the end of the summer, I left with a recommendation letter. I thought that piece of paper was a million bucks!
Why was this experience so important? It instilled in me the need to build relationships, do a great job, and leave a positive impression on each person with whom I interacted. It also gave me a recommendation letter and a contact that I used to get my first “official” internship a couple years later.
If you’re launching your career or considering a career change, but don’t have the network or experience you need to achieve your goals, here’s some advice:
Say yes (if you can)
If offered an opportunity that may get you a step closer to work in your desired field, that will help you gain skills you may need for your future, or that will introduce you to people who may be able to get you a step closer—take it. It may not be exactly what you want to do, but that experience will pay off.
Know your professors and career services offices
I attended a large state college. By going up to my professors after class to get to know them and make sure I stood out, I was connected to new opportunities. The career services office at my school also went above and beyond to help me find opportunities. Why did they help me so much? I took ownership of the process. I wasn’t just asking them for something. I was always positive, energetic, responded to their emails in a timely manner, and was grateful for their help. This plays a huge part in whether someone will help you. If you’ve already graduated from college, remember that it’s never too late to connect with these resources—you can always reach out as an alumnus.
Create a strong LinkedIn profile
LinkedIn is a great way to “put yourself out there” and get discovered by recruiters and people in the industry you want to enter. Consider LinkedIn an online version of your resume—but with a multi-media twist. With the right keywords on your profile and a detailed experience section, people are sure to find you in their search. And when they do, be sure you’ve uploaded examples of your work or linked to websites where recruiters can see your best work.
What else can you do to network?
Be active on social media.
When it comes to LinkedIn, send connection requests to classmates, alumni, professionals in your desired field in your area, etc. Send thoughtful connection notes and ask for a short meeting or their insight. Don’t just ask for a job. Remember that you need to build the relationship first. Don’t underestimate the power of Twitter for professional networking, too!
I know this is hard. But it’s important to attend events in your area. There are plenty of free (or cheap) networking events. Find professional affiliation groups (this guide from BN360 will help immensely). People have to know you to be able to tell you about opportunities, other contacts they have. There’s real value in putting yourself out there.
Remember that networking happens everywhere
Networking isn’t just about attending networking events. If you volunteer for a local community organization or take your kids to daycare, you’re networking. You never know who knows who. People will remember that you made an effort to introduce yourself and get to know them.
So why should you network ASAP? You’ll establish, build, and maintain positive relationships that will help you grow—personally and professionally.