This year’s college graduates may be facing a more friendly labor market than last year’s grads, according to a new report, but that doesn’t mean finding a job will be easy. College students need to use every resource available to them, and a big part of that is using personal relationships to their advantage, experts say.
Employers plan to hire 19.3% more recent graduates this year, finds a report by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, which surveyed 174 schools from February through April.
“Research tells us that between 60-80% of jobs are found through personal relationships,” says John Bennett, director of the Master of Science and executive coaching and assistant professor of behavioral science at the McColl School of Business at Queens University of Charlotte. “Learning to work in networks and in relationships in a way that is meaningful, that has impact and that conserves both our interest and the interest of the people we’re connected to, certainly is only going to add value to us as employees.”
When it comes to contacts that might help in a tough labor market, students should look beyond their own personal connections and look to what contacts their parents, career center, professors or alumni network might offer, says . J.P. Hansen, author of The Bliss List: The Ultimate Guide To Living The Dream At Work And Beyond.
“The trick is to see yourself as a marketer, and the product you’re selling is you,” Hansen says. “I’ve seen many jobs/internships open up despite ‘no openings.’”
You Never Know Until You Ask
The first step in establishing your personal network is to identify what connections are important to you and your career path.
Hansen suggests casting a wide net; look at organizations you’re involved in (business fraternities, student chapters of associations) in addition to individual people you know.
While personal connections are a great way to get a foot in the door to a company or industry, keep in mind that networking requires a symbiotic relationship. Bennett explains that you should get to know the people before you ask for help.
“One of the problems with networking is that we think just because we know someone, that they’re going to do us a favor,” he says. “Students and graduates need to develop the relationship, take an inventory of those relationships, and develop those relationships by adding value.”
With that said, don’t be intimidated to reach out and establish contacts.
“The people who are the most successful are usually the most important ones that you can contact and the most willing to contact you and share their information,” says Larry James, business networking coach and author of The 10 Commandments of Networking: Creative Ways to Maximize Your Personal Connections.
The experts agree that networking is not a last-minute effort, relationships take time to cultivate. Even if they already have a job, or are committing to school full time, students should still look for new contacts with people in their field.
“You shouldn’t network because you’re desperate--you should network all the time,” says James. “You should always be making contacts and have a Rolodex or computer program that lets you file these people away.”
There is a reason why ‘work’ is included in the word networking, says Bennett, it is an active process that requires a concerted effort, not something students can passively sit back and not worry about.
Stay in Touch
Establishing contacts takes work, and it is the student’s responsibility to keep connections going.
“The mistake that students make today is they pass out their resume and put the burden on someone else to do all of the work to figure out where they fit,” says Kaplan Mobray, career expert and author of The 10Ks of Personal Branding.
To stay organized, Hansen suggests keeping a log of the people you are targeting and when you last communicated to ensure proper follow up. People are busy and may forget about e-mails or phone messages--don’t harass your contacts, but don’t become a distant memory either.
Bennett suggests staying in touch with people by keeping them apprised of what you’re doing, what your interests are, what skills you have developed, and what jobs or opportunities you are looking for.
“Don’t expect that the friend of a parent or faculty member is going to reach out to the student,” he says. “The student needs to manage that relationship.”
Students should look to online networking sites like LinkedIn or Facebook to help establish contacts.
LinkedIn allows users to see different levels of connectivity to other people (whether you’re a second or third connection to someone), which can help students reach out to people more directly than cold calling.
Mobray suggests students take advantage of the site’s “recommend” feature.
“After you get high-level referrals from your personal network and post them and track them on LinkedIn, it’s a great way for people to get more information about you,” he says.
The capability to follow companies on LinkedIn can be valuable, as they often post hiring opportunities and events for professionals.
“I’ve seen students very successfully take advantage of them by attending those events and meeting people who can connect them with jobs and then getting in front of hiring managers,” says Mobray. “It’s a great tool for both navigation as well as connecting with other professionals.”
Don’t get stuck in the confines of the Web; networking sites tend to be more about volume rather than the quality of connections.
"So much of the social networking today is more about people within a smaller network, so you’re talking with the same people over and over,” Bennett says. “Good networking skills involve reaching into new networks, not just the ones that we know."
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