The beginning of your career should be one of the most exciting times of your life. And in today’s uber-connected world, many first-time job opportunities come from knowing the right people who can connect you or point you in the right direction. If you don’t have connections, you may have a bit more trouble finding your dream position. That’s not to say it’s impossible to achieve your full potential without connections, but knowing the right people makes it easier to reach your goals more quickly.
That is why networking is important. Many people graduate from college or trade school without having many connections with people in their field. If you find yourself in this position, below are a few tips you may find helpful.
NOTE: Networking can create opportunities. However, it’s important to know that while connections can open doors, it’s YOUR skills, YOUR personality and YOUR work ethic that ultimately will allow you to walk through those doors and toward your dream job.
Remember Your Network is Larger Than You Think
The easiest way to begin networking is by looking at your existing contacts. Review your phone contacts or followers on social media. Be on the lookout for mentors, consider talking to professors, associates of your parents or other professionals that are in similar fields. Ask for short, 20-minute meetings or coffee to share your goals and ask questions. First and foremost, be prepared. Have a written list of questions. And by all means, stick to your schedule. Be on time and respectful of their time.
At the conclusion of your meeting ask if they have any additional advice to share and if they can recommend other people you should meet.
Send a thank you note.
All of these things will help you grow your network and create connections who are interested in helping you find the right opportunity. These opportunities may be in the most unexpected places. Keep an open mind.
Say Yes to Opportunities
You may find some opportunities within your desired field that would look good on our resume or introduce you to others in your industry. Some of these early opportunities may not be your dream job. In fact, you may need to volunteer for some positions without being guaranteed anything in return. Even if a volunteer position is not your first choice or your preferred way to spend an afternoon, it is important to say yes to a variety of opportunities. These experiences create connections you would not have otherwise been able to make, and they give you experiences that will further hone your career goals.
Have Confidence During Conversations
When networking, whether at a formal event or informal conversation, the way in which you talk — either casually or professionally — will be a dead giveaway as to whether you are prepared for potential opportunities. Be respectful. Articulate. Share in creating conversation. A good conversationalist creates a positive impression — and potential opportunities. (People want to recommend, and work with, people they enjoy spending time with…and conversation is key in creating that connection.)
Let’s say you recently graduated with a sports management degree but have not yet acquired a professional role. If someone asks what you do, rather than saying you’re unemployed and hoping to get into sports management, instead try saying, “Nice to meet you! I’m in the sports management field. Although, I’m currently looking for some additional opportunities related to the industry.” This establishes a confident presence while also opening up opportunities for additional discussion and the opportunity for you to ask if they have ideas or thoughts on how best to connect with others in the field.