If you’re preparing to land an ideal job after graduation, you might need to do more than just getting good grades and making a pretty resume.
HRs won’t know how good you are unless they actually read your resume. Yet with piles of resumes in their mailboxes, why would they read yours?
And that’s where networking can help: it doesn’t guarantee an offer, but it raises the chance of actually being seen in the first place.
Networking is, essentially, building human connections via interaction. Talking to brand new faces in events, one-on-one coffee chat with a colleague, exchanging social media profiles, all count as networking.
Broadly speaking, networking can be divided into two types: maintaining old relationships and starting new professional relationships.
All those relationships you have form a social network, where information can be shared via connections.
What are the benefits of networking during job search? Why spend the time talking to people?
The answer: it can help you land a job by winning a referral.
2015 Recruiter Nation Survey showed that referred applicants are 5 times more likely than average to be hired, and 15 times more likely to be hired than applicants from a job board. In fact, 78% of recruiters find their best quality candidates through referrals.
Why? Let’s look at the referral programs from an employer’s perspective.
First, it saves employers time and cost to hire. Referred candidates are 55% faster to hire, compared with employees sourced through career sites, according to research. That’s easy to imagine: They don’t have to invest in advertising or staffing agencies. They don’t even have to spend time on crafting job posts on multiple job boards.
Moreover, referred employees also perform better and stay longer. About 47% employees hired via referrals stay for over 3 years, compared to 14% for job boards. Again, this is understandable: referred employees have a clearer picture of the company and the job, while external hires are more likely to be misled by vague job descriptions.
Simply put, it is more efficient and effective for employers to hire via referral programs.
What does that mean for job seekers?
You need to find people who are willing to refer you, and you do that through networking. The more connections you have in your social network, the more likely you can find someone that will refer you.
Further reading: 8 Ways to Get a Better Job Fast
With that said, many people feel awkward talking to strangers, not to mention the stress in networking events where everyone is talking. Who should I talk to? What should I say? How to introduce myself without sounding desperate?
Hey, don’t worry. There are less awkward ways to network.
Among all the people you meet on a daily basis, teachers and professors are those who have the most resources and connections due to their experience and social status. To start a positive relationship, make yourself known to them by asking questions in class and attending office hours to discuss or ask for advice.
During one-on-one conversations, let them know what you’re good at and what you’re looking for. If you’ve been a good and active student in their class, they will likely offer you some valuable help, such as connecting you to someone they know, or writing an endorsement or reference letter for you.
Even if they can’t offer anything at the moment, let them know you’re always open to opportunities if something comes up in the future.
School events are usually less awkward than off-campus events, because you’re more familiar with both the environment and the participants.
For example, you can often see your classmates in career events held by your department. If you have a friend who is more extroverted, ask if you can tag along. You can then skip the (sometimes awkward) opening of the conversation but still get a chance to listen, talk and introduce yourself later on.
What should you say when you’re networking? An easy way is to start with questions.
A common networking scenario is after a talk. If you want to connect with the speaker, ask questions about topics mentioned in the talk. If you want to connect with other participants, ask them what they like about the talk. You can then expand your conversation by sharing your opinions, while sneaking in some information about yourself that might start a whole new topic.
Why would people help you if you don’t help them? Help share a post if a connection needs to spread a word. Help proofread a classmate’s assignment. Help your faculty order food for a department event. These are all simple and easy acts, but they show that you’re a friendly and warm person, which gives people a strong reason to help you when you’re in need.
Don’t start helping others only when you need their help - that could be worse than not helping at all. Try to offer help whenever you have the chance.
Too nervous to talk to people in person? Be grateful that most things are available online now. Use social media such as LinkedIn to nurture and expand your network.
How to network on LinkedIn?
If you’re not looking for a particular person or position, periodically share valuable posts and interact with your connections.
If you have your eyes on a particular company, use LinkedIn to find someone that works there, and send a polite message asking them if they’re willing to share their experience.
If you’re hunting for a referral:
Be thoughtful. Don’t abruptly ask for a referral without any context. Start with questions and discussions about the role or the company, which shows that you’re willing to take time to learn.
If you’re sure you want to apply for the position, deliver a brief but strong pitch on what you can bring to the table before finally asking for a referral. Remember to thank them even if they aren’t able to refer you. You want to keep every connection without leaving any negative impressions.
Further reading: Branding Yourself Online [Infographic]
As a student, most of your connections are people within the campus. Yet a diverse network can open up way more opportunities for you.
To expand your network, try to step out of the school. Be an intern or volunteer for an off-campus organization or event. It’s likely that you’ll meet and work with people with various backgrounds and experiences. Also, if you’ve shown your skills during the work, they would be more willing to recommend you when an opportunity comes up.
Remember, networking doesn’t always lead to a referral, and a referral doesn’t always lead to an offer. Think of it as a long-term investment. You’ll be grateful for it someday in the future.
Further reading: College students: Resume examples, formats & tips