Phew — almost done! Let’s see here. . . we’ve already talked about not using career centers, playing the college senior card, and not knowing who you’re interviewing with. That leaves two tips left, starting with professional networking. By now we all know the benefits of professional networking, but most people get it wrong. Especially when job hunting.
Mistake 4: Networking the Wrong Way.
What’s the first thing you look at when viewing someone’s Facebook page? How many friends they have. The same is true for LinkedIn and other networking tools–it’s like social currency in the new Millennium. You may have 300 legitimate connections, but it doesn’t matter unless they’re going to help you get a job. Think about the strength of your connections first–the strongest help the most.
I get invites for “social networking” events every week. The idea is for a few dozen people to show up, shake some hands, exchange business cards, and expand their network. Everyone goes home with 15 new connections and calls it a success. But is it really? If one of those people called me for the first time six months from now and asked about a job opening at my company, would I be likely to help? Here’s what I know about them: (1) they can chat with a stranger for five minutes, (2) they carry their business cards with them, and (3) basic bio and professional information. That kind of networking is insincere at worst, impersonal at best. Frankly, it’s not for everyone.
When the market is soft, you may need to rely on your network more than usual. But most people I know are networking to help only their closest connections, not those who are merely acquaintences. What’s the answer? Build closer connections. How do you do it? Work at it. The best networkers I know spend time every day taking care of their existing connections and building new ones.
College seniors have a harder time networking to find a job because they don’t have a built-in group of coworkers, and it’s very easy to come off as pushy when you’re trying to connect with people. That said, there are some things you can do to build a network and use it to your advantage. Here are some tips and tricks based on my experience with college seniors in the last year:
- Do not try to “friend” someone you’re interviewing with. That includes Facebook, LinkedIn, Plaxo, and all the others. For starters, the recruiter or hiring manager isn’t going to connect with 1,000 people every year. Also, they don’t want to give the impression that anyone in the hiring process has an advantage over others, so if they connect with you, they have to connect with everyone. Finally, many of us only connect with people they vouch for. Just because you hit it off with someone for an hour during an interview doesn’t mean they’d vouch for you. Once they hire you, that’s a different question.
- Stay away from Facebook and other social (not professional) media as much as you can while you’re job seeking. If you’re a college senior, most of your friends are looking for jobs, too. You should all know by now that we (employers) look at Facebook and other sites before making offers. Your friends will understand if you won’t be posting pictures or funny applets to your page for a while. They shouldn’t do it either. Make your search faster and our jobs easier by keeping it clean online.
- Build a professional profile online. Create a LinkedIn page to legitimize your candidacy. As I mentioned in Part 2, you’re playing the role of employee, not college senior. I’ve been impressed with a few different college senior LinkedIn pages I’ve seen lately. If you can get recommendations from internship managers, professors, or administrators, I’ll be doubly-impressed.
- Perfect the art of “shallow mining.” You’re not going to get many executives to have lunch and offer you job search and career advice. But if you approach it right, you can get a few ideas or suggestions via email. “I see you’re not hiring at this time, but I’m very interested in a career in your industry. Can you point me to other companies you respect?”
- Start early. I usually see four or five freshmen and sophomores at every career fair. They’re going around to the booths that interest them to see which companies and industries to target after graduation. This always impresses me and, if I see them in a year or two during our interview process, I’ll remember them. It takes a long time to reap what you sow, but isn’t it worth it?
- Cast a wide net–don’t limit yourself to networking solely within your intended industry. Do your best to make a good impression on as many different people as you can. You never know who’s married to someone in your intended industry, or who has a brother who’s hiring.
- Pay it forward. If you do something for someone else, they’re more likely to help you out later. Take someone to coffee, send them an article they might like, or help them with their network.
Networking is tough–especially when you’re in college. But if you do it the right way, it can be a valuable addition to your repertoire. Establishing a smaller amount of dedicated supporters is always preferable to volumes of people who wouldn’t recognize you in the grocery store.