You’ve probably been to some career fairs or networking functions at school. You put on your best button-down and blazer, printed out a million copies of your resume and plastered on a big smile as you shook hands with and pitched yourself to recruiter after recruiter. But by the time you reach your senior year, these events can become pretty tedious. Plus, there are so many students there that it may seem like your chances of landing a job or internship through one of these events seem pretty slim.
When you think of networking, you probably think of expanding your network by meeting new professionals. But have you ever thought about building on the network you already have? There are plenty of resources that have been right under your nose, but you may never have considered them as professional contacts. We’ve found some more unique ways for you to expand your network and land the job of your dreams.
1. Your extended family
Your family is probably the easiest networking source in your arsenal. You may be surrounded by family members who have had interesting experiences and made connections along the way—use them!
Lesley Mitler, founder of Priority Candidates, Inc., a career coaching service for college students, says that “these are often people who know you in a social context and can speak about your personality and interpersonal skills.” Your family members already know you on some level; even if you aren’t close, they can probably attest that you’re an overall good and employable person.
Mitler says that students can sometimes find reaching out to family uncomfortable and scary, so she says to “ask them for advice and see if that conversation leads to a discussion about possible networking introductions.”
Start with the family member you’re closest to; give him or her a call or send an email. Be careful not to jump right into career talk; be polite, ask how she is and make her feel appreciated. If she works in a field that interests you, ask her how she got there and what advice she has for breaking into the industry. If none of your close family works in an industry you’re interested in, ask a family member if he knows anyone he would feel comfortable putting you in touch with.
Casey, a junior at Saint Joseph’s University, is a marketing major, and her uncle works as a PR representative, so she reached out to him about his job. “He was able to give me a lot of insight into the different aspects of the industry, especially the business world overall,” Casey says.
Take advantage of the connections you were born with! Maybe your aunt’s college roommate has your dream job, or your dad’s former colleague started his own business and is willing to talk to you about it. Reach out to your family members, tell them about your interests and ask them if they know anyone in your industry. You never know what you might find!
2. Your professors
You see great networking sources in class every day! If you’re studying something you want to pursue professionally, make connections with your professors now. Mitler says professors are “a great networking resource and credible introducers” because they already have successful, established careers in your field, and they probably know plenty of people in the industry who they could introduce you to down the line.
Go to a professor’s office hours to talk about your class. Tell him or her how much you enjoy it and discuss the topic further. Let your professor know you’re passionate about this field and want to know how to best break into it after graduation.
Be sure to keep your relationship up after graduation! Send your professors occasional email updates on your career and ask how they are. If you stay in touch, they’ll be a great resource for college and beyond!
3. Guest speakers
If your school ever hosts events with guest speakers in your industry or if your professors bring in interesting speakers to class, make sure you get to talk to them one-on-one! If it’s a small class, this will be much easier than meeting at a career event.
Find a way to make yourself stand out from the crowd. Research the speaker and his or her company beforehand so you can impress him or her with your knowledge. Ask questions during the lecture to show your interest. Carry business cards with you to give them to the speaker afterwards; this will make you look prepared, professional and passionate.
If you really want to stand out, take a cue from Alex, a senior at Tufts University, who landed an internship through Twitter!
“I was taking a PR and marketing course at my school, and throughout the course our professor had speakers who were thought leaders in the industry come in and talk to us,” she says. “Before one of these speakers came in, I tweeted at him saying I was excited to hear from him in my class.”
That one tweet ended up scoring Alex an internship. The speaker recognized her from her Twitter picture and spoke to her after his lecture. She interned with him for seven months!
The easiest way to get in touch with alumni from your school? LinkedIn! It may seem obvious, but Mitler says that “many students are not aware that LinkedIn has a terrific resource.” You may be in alumni or sorority groups and connected to every person you’ve ever met, but have you checked out your new secret weapon, LinkedIn Alumni?
This amazing resource “aggregates all the [alumni] on LinkedIn from your school and allows you to apply numerous filters,” says Mitler. “I have had recent grads reach out to alum[s] they identified and got meetings or phone conversations with because of the alumni connection.”
Your school is a perfect resource for networking. Use this function to search for alumni from our school who work at companies or in fields you think you might be interested in. See what connections you have in common or just reach out on your own!
If you’re messaging an alumna you don’t know, remember to keep it professional. Just because she once went to your school doesn’t mean you can speak to them like she still does! Introduce yourself, your major and your year of graduation. Say something like, “I saw you work at Her Campus, and I would love to hear about it! I’m interested in pursuing a career in writing and it would be great to hear about your experience, especially since you’re a Harvard alumna and I’m a current student there.”
Ask to talk over email or, if she’s located near you, meet her for coffee. Most alumni love hearing from students. If she doesn’t respond in a week or so, send a follow-up message, but if you still don’t hear back, don’t push it. She may just be busy, but if she doesn’t respond to two messages than you should move on to another resource.
5. Your dentist, your dry cleaner… everyone you meet!
Potential networking connections are all around you. Everyone you know has the potential to be a great resource—you just have to get out there and talk to them!
“I always advise my clients to think about people they know that have a lot of clients—dentists, doctors, lawyers, salespeople, members of social clubs, store owners and even your dry cleaner,” Mitler says. “Anyone with lots of clients can be a potential source of referrals.”
Reach out to people you know, and be sure to “let them know who you are interested in connecting with, what you are interested in doing and why you are qualified,” says Mitler. Talk to anyone and everyone and get yourself out there!
Sarah, a junior at Gonzaga University, had an interesting encounter in a cab recently. Apparently her cab driver had given the intern director from Microsoft a ride the day before. “She had told him that if he ever drove any college students looking for internships, he should send them her way!” she says. The cab driver told her about all the interesting people he had driven around and gave her some ideas of places to look for internships.
Anyone you talk to has the potential to be a resource. Don’t be afraid to push yourself out of your comfort zone a little and just start talking to someone. Business cards can be a huge help; carry them in your bag and give them out to people you meet. It will make it easy to stay in touch and follow up later when you’re looking for work. It may feel aggressive, but just getting the ball rolling could lead to landing your dream job!
Networking isn’t just for career fairs. Many people you meet will have the potential to boost your career and provide you with great resources. Take a chance and just talk to people about your career! You never know when an opportunity will present itself.