When it comes to your career, connections can give you a significant advantage, whether they help get your resume into the right hands or elevate your name above others being considered for the same role.
"Some openings receive dozens and even hundreds of applications," says Jeff Haden, author and founder of Blackbird Media. "Oftentimes, getting your resume viewed with more than a cursory glance means having a contact inside the company."
How to Network and Get Connected
Whether you're still in college or a recent graduate, build your network with these tips:
1. Make Use of Your University's Resources
Familiarize yourself with your college's career services department. Even if you've already graduated, these departments are well equipped to help with your career networking goals. Ask for information about job fairs and postings, on-campus interview sessions, resume reviews, and any other services that could improve your network. Often, campus career advisors can put you in touch with recruiters looking to hire as well as alumni at companies in which you may be interested.
2. Get an Introduction
While it's possible to tactfully approach potential connections without knowing them, a mutual acquaintance lends you credibility. "A warm introduction is always better received than a cold call," Haden says.
If you've identified someone you'd like to meet, ask around to see if any of your existing connections know the person. The same goes for online networking. It might be tempting to reach out directly to a decision-maker at one of your prospect companies, but a connection request from a stranger may seem like spam, Haden warns.
3. Don't Hide Behind the Screen
Social media, email, and text messaging are powerful tools when building your network, but make connections in person. Some job-seekers find career networking events useful, but Haden advises a more personalized approach: Identify people you want to build relationships with and ask them to meet for coffee or lunch after you've received a proper introduction. "Ultimately, you only need a few people on your side, and you're much more likely to connect in a meaningful way if you're intentional and selective," he says.
Be mindful if you employ digital networking strategies. First, take a hard look at your social media presence before you enter the job market. Your profile may be the first impression you have on a future employer, so put your best self forward online, and remove any images or content that may seem questionable. When using digital networking, also tailor your efforts to each individual. For example, personalize connection requests on sites like LinkedIn rather than use standard invitations.
4. Follow up Promptly and Professionally
When you first meet someone, follow up in a timely fashion so you can begin building a relationship without a lull. "Getting that connection up and running early gives your prospect greater context for who you are and what you're about while you're still top of mind," Haden explains.
5. Give Before You Take
Networking is a two-way street. Whether you're reaching out in-person or online, remember that networking isn't just about furthering yourself. Successful networkers focus on what they can give rather than what they can get. "Giving is the only way to establish a real connection and relationship," Haden says. "Ask how they're doing. Ask what could help them. Care about others first. Then, and only then, will they truly care back."
Consider following what Haden calls the "favor rule" — especially important in the digital world. "If you're not willing to do a favor for someone, then you should think twice about connecting with the person on LinkedIn," he says. "You have to be comfortable enough to introduce him or her to a colleague, or give the person a recommendation."
6. Remember that Networking is About People, Not Tools
Twitter followers, Facebook friends, and LinkedIn connections are great — if you do something with those connections. "Tools might provide a convenient way to establish connections, but to maintain those connections, you still have to put in the work," Haden says. "Any tool that is easy or automated won't establish the connections you really need."
A Stronger Network
Effective networking takes time and practice. Putting in effort and focusing on how you can help others will help you build strong connections that could prove valuable throughout your career. You might help them land their next job — or they might help you land yours.
If your new connections from networking help you find your next opportunity, make sure you use these tips for nailing the interview.