Networking eases shift into real world

 

 

By Vince Dixon

Your college days are slowly winding down and after working hard for four years (or maybe five) toward the career of your choice, you’ve learned the information you need to do the job. But, have you met the people you need to know to get the job?

Now that the life of cramming, partying and finding yourself has come to an end, it is time to buckle down and make connections with those who will help you land that dream job. This is called networking. Mastering this will make becoming a professional in the “real world” an easier task.

Dr. Lois Meerdink, assistant dean of the College of Business’ Business Career Services, and Damien Lay, assistant director of the Career Center, said there are a few important networking strategies those of any major should know.

Practice

The process may seem intimidating and off putting at first to those who are shy or inexperienced with networking. Practice eases this stress.

Meerdink said networking with family and people you know lowers the pressure of making connections. Networking is a skill that can always be improved.

“Networking is something that you constantly need to cultivate,” Meerdink said.

Lay suggested practicing with friends or alone in a mirror before attending career fairs or network gatherings. Once you attend the gatherings, there are still opportunities to practice with recruiters or representatives of organizations that hold no interest to you in order to test your “pitch.”

Keeping the pitch brief

Much like the popular Elevator Pitch, used by entrepreneurs to sell products to investors in less than two minutes (the length of an elevator ride), the Career Center suggests using the 30 second pitch when speaking with potential networks.

Lay said to keep things short and memorable. An introduction of who you are, what you do and what you want to achieve usually does the trick, he said.

“Be real, be yourself, but at the same time, be professional,” Lay said.

A short pitch saves recruiters time and speeds the interaction process.

Countless opportunities

Why wait until the next career fair or holiday party to make career connections? Networking opportunities are everywhere.

Meerdink suggested networking with people you know even if they are not someone with a high position in your desired career.

“Everyone knows someone,” Meerdink said. “It really doesn’t matter the level or position of someone in an organization. They may know someone bigger.”

She added that using campus tools, such as the online alumni directory uiaaconnect.org and University networking site alwaysillinois.org, are also beneficial.

Alumni are usually willing to help students of their Alma Mater succeed, especially within the alumnus’ own career field.

The follow-up

After you’ve collected a stack of business cards, phone numbers and e-mail addresses, what’s the next step? The follow-up. Contacting your connections is important in letting him or her know you are serious about getting to know them.

Setting up an informational interview is one step Business Career Services said is important.

During this meeting with your contact, ask questions about his or her position, the industry, ways to enter and succeed in it, and names of other people who could also lend you their own knowledge. This can be done over lunch or in a professional setting.

Be careful not to make the wrong impression. The interview should be mutual and with a clear purpose.

“Don’t do the Bait and Switch,” Meerdink said. “Don’t set up an informational and then try to get the job.”

Start networking today

The business career fair is held Tuesday, Jan. 29 and Wednesday, Jan. 30, and features over 100 companies each day. The fair is open to all University students with an i-card.

Professional alumni will also be in attendance. Meerdink said they make good networking contacts and should be approachable. They can be spotted wearing blue ribbons.

The Career Center will offer three networking workshops this semester. The next workshop will be held Tuesday, Feb. 5 at 3 p.m.