When students inquire about beginning an internship/job search or just seeking general information, one of the first steps I tell them to take is to reach out to their network. Oftentimes I have to stop and remember that this simple direction is not always clear to those who are just beginning their career journey.
Let’s first clear up who your network is. Your personal network includes anyone from classmates to faculty, past co-workers to the parents of the friends you grew up with. The people that you’re already connected with and have access to are a part of your network. Your network is helpful in many ways whether you can gain information from one of your direct connections, or if they can help to introduce you to a new person that you’d like to know.
I’ve met with several students who have discovered they have a family member working in an industry they’re interested in and they never realized it until they struck up a career oriented conversation at the dinner table during a school break. These discoveries often lead to introductions sometimes a job or internship. Your network is a powerful tool—if you know how to use it!
It’s important not to view a connection as someone who’s just there to help you. Networking is about building relationships and this is often what leads to introductions and tips about open positions. Creating this relationship will also aid you in finding special members of your network to serve as mentors and guides as you move throughout your career.
Communicate Your Interests
While your network may be able to help connect you to opportunities, they can’t take that step until they know what you’re interested in. As you start to decide what career paths may interest you, or that you’d like do an internship back home for the summer, let your network know. Share this with your family members, friends, faculty, etc. You never know who in your network may be able to make an introduction to someone that can help you reach your goal.
Whether you have just discovered your interest for marketing or you need to do company research to prepare for an interview, your network can help you find someone to connect with to assist you. Ask if anyone knows someone who works in marketing that they’d be comfortable introducing you to for an informational interview. You can also use the search tools on LinkedIn to identify people who work in a certain industry or at a particular organization and then use these tips to ask for an introduction.
Reciprocate the Favor
In addition to tapping your network for assistance, don’t forget that networking relationships should be mutually beneficial. Ask your contacts if there’s anything that you can help them with at the moment or remind them that you’re always there to return the favor. It’s also nice to always follow up with a thank you note to both someone who’s given you their time as well as to the person who helped make the connection for you. When someone does come back with a favor of their own make sure to be just as helpful to them!