The summer in between graduating high school and starting college, my Dad "made me" take a summer job with a friend of his at a local non-profit in Buffalo. I would be helping out while someone was on leave by filing, stuffing envelopes, mailing new hire packets, answering incoming calls, taking meeting minutes, you name it. I came in every day and did what I was asked to. After a few weeks, I learned that if I listened to everything going on around me, and then offered to help/meet a need, it made everyone's day. By the end of the summer I was helping with scheduling interviews, sitting in on interviews and taking notes and helping with event planning. At the end of the summer, I left with a recommendation letter. I thought that piece of paper was a million bucks!
Why was this experience so important? It instilled in me the need to build relationships and do a great job/leave a positive impression on each person I interacted with. It also gave me a letter/contact I used to get my first "official" internship a couple years later! Are you starting off in/looking to change your career and don't have the network or experience you need to get where you want to be?
- SAY YES (if you can!)- If offered an opportunity that may get you a step closer to work in your desired field, gain skills you may need for your future, or will introduce you to people who may be able to get you a step closer, take it. It may not be exactly what you want to do, but that experience will pay off.
- Know your professors and career services offices. By going up to my professors after class to get to know them and make sure I stood out (I went to a huge state college) I was connected to new opportunities! My career services office went above and beyond to help me find opportunities. Why did they help me so much? I took ownership of the process. I wasn't just asking them for something. I was always positive, energetic, responded to their emails timely, and was grateful. This plays a huge part in whether someone will help you. It's never too late to connect with these resources.
- Create a LinkedIn profile!
What else can you do to network?
- If you have a LinkedIn profile, now is the time to GET ACTIVE. Send connection requests to classmates, alumni, professionals in your desired field in your area, etc. Send thoughtful connection notes and ask for a short meeting, or their insight. Do not just ask for a job. Remember you need to build that relationship first. (Don't underestimate the power of Twitter for professional networking too!)
- Get out there IN PERSON. I know this is hard, but make it to events in your area. There are plenty of free/cheap networking events you can find in your area. Find professional affiliation groups. People have to know you to be able to tell you about opportunities, other contacts they have, etc!
- Remember, you can network anywhere! Volunteer for your local community organization? Take your kids to daycare? You never know who knows who. People will remember that you made an effort to introduce yourself and get to know them.
So why should you network ASAP? Establish, build and maintain positive relationships to GROW personally and professionally!