It’s the people you know who can help you land that job later

One minute you are coasting along in your orange and blue spirit wear, enjoying unforgettable nights out with friends, running campus organizations and conquering stressful exams — and the next, that paralyzing question that has been lurking in the corner of your mind smacks you in the forehead: What the heck am I going to do after graduation?

As it turns out, the people you have built relationships with might just be as instrumental in that decision as the information you have mastered in the classroom. Whether they write letters of recommendation, introduce you to a professional in your area of interest or know of a job opening, those connections can be game changers in the job search. Yet, like anything worth your while, networking is not always easy. Here are a few key tips from University faculty to keep in mind when approaching networking opportunities:

Start building relationships early

One way many important connections begin is through early involvement in a Registered Student Organization.

“Students really need to get involved in student organizations because they will meet upperclassmen who already have those relationships,” said professor James Dahl, associate director of undergraduate affairs in Business. “A lot of student organizations bring professionals or speakers to their event, so now all of a sudden you’re getting to know the business or organization.”

The main thing to remember is that a student’s experiential education does not necessarily have to align thematically with his or her eventual career goal, according to Tom Costello, teaching associate in Communication.

“Maybe even (join) things you’re just trying to discover, because there are so many things that are available to us that we may not even know exist,” Costello said. “So be involved. By joining an organization, I can help that organization, but by helping, I may in fact be helping myself.”

Although extracurricular involvement certainly adds value to a resume, your academic relationships deserve equal attention, said Amanda Cox, associate director of academic and campus outreach at The Career Center.

“Go to office hours,” Cox said. “I don’t think very many students take advantage of the office hours that are always listed on the syllabus … that’s a very underutilized resource.”

Self-reflect

Before approaching someone for help in a job or internship search, students should consider what their long-term goals are and what they are passionate about. Especially when contacting a professional for a letter of recommendation, it is essential that students are clear about what their goals are, Dahl said.

Those referring students for a job or writing recommendations also need to feel confident that they are investing their time and utilizing their own connections for someone who will live up to a positive referral.

“Really it’s a sales job — just the thing you’re selling is yourself,” Costello said.

The idea of selling yourself can prove to be intimidating, especially if senior year rolls around and a student is not even sure that he or she has any relationships or involvement that could result in a job. To these seniors, Dahl recommended that they “do an inventory.”

“They might be surprised about who they know second degree who has a connection,” he said. “It might even be their friend’s parents.”

Do not rely on technology alone

Although technology has taken on an increasingly powerful role in the business world and networking overall, the value of face-to-face contact and people skills has not diminished.

Although social media “allows a larger net to be cast across individuals,” Dahl said, technology has not replaced the person-to-person contact that is often more memorable It is more difficult to base a connection off of a simple online shared interest, he said. A face-to-face meeting increases the likelihood that the relationship can develop into a possible job opportunity.

“People want to help people, but also if they don’t know you very well, an employer doesn’t necessarily want to hire you just because you asked,” he said.

Be tactful and thoughtful about your approach

A potential network connection will be more likely to respond positively if you approach them looking for information rather than just outright asking for a job, Dahl said. For example, informational interviews or shadowing opportunities, Cox said, are helpful ways to put your name out there and find out whether the particular area is something you want to pursue.

Before even approaching an individual, consider how you might perceive that person if he or she reached out to you.

“If you’re going to ask something from someone, ask yourself, is it something that you would be willing to provide?” Dahl said.

Put your pride aside: What’s the worst that could happen?

Although it can initially be unnerving to contact individuals in high positions or people you do not know very well, students should not be hesitant to put that pride aside and take risks.

“You may contact 10 different people and hear back from one, so you have to be OK with putting in time and energy and not getting a return from it,” Cox said. “So you can’t be easily discouraged because you’re going to put yourself out there, and sometimes it’s going to work out and sometimes it’s not.”

For example, an effective way for students to think about networking is to compare it to calling that guy or girl you are interested in.

“What’s the worst that can happen? Quite frankly, if you call someone and you want to go out with them, the worst thing that can happen is they say no,” Costello said. “You never how it’s going to work (for) you until it does.”

When it comes to how a professor or professional in any given field will respond to such a request, Costello insisted that students should not be worried.

“People have to realize that most people want to pay it forward; they want to help people,” Costello said. “I would be happy to have someone I know become accomplished as a result of some direction I sent them.”

Specifically at the University, where a student’s education is the ultimate goal for students and faculty alike, requesting assistance is generally embraced.

“We’re all here for students’ education and so because of that, there’s a genuine interest in wanting to be helpful to a student and help them accomplish what they want to accomplish,” Dahl said.

Maggie can be reached [email protected]