When you ask most professionals the best thing you can do to secure a job after graduation, frequently the response is "network." The art of networking is not natural for most working adults, let alone college students with minimal experience and contacts. This fall, take advantage of four high-impact ways you can expand your career network without ever leaving campus.
The fall internship and career fair. From mid-September to mid-October, most colleges and universities host on-campus career fairs. These events often draw 30 or more employers – all of who want to meet college students for internships and professional roles after graduation. These companies are so interested in meeting students and new graduates that they pay hundreds of dollars to attend the event as well as send a couple of their employees to spend the day at each school. Typically, the employees that attend are skilled at engaging new job seekers in career related conversations – minimizing a student's fear of, "I don't know what to say in an interview." These companies typically hand out easy-to-understand materials about career options they offer and give job fair attendees time to ask questions. Overall, the career fair is the holy grail of easy networking. It brings together employers, open positions and an environment that is designed for the novice networker.
Employer informational sessions. During this same time frame, some employers will choose to host on-campus "meet and greet" information sessions. These sessions are typically up to an hour long and give attendees personal access to employer representatives. The business professional often covers the company's products/services, opportunities for students and entry-level candidates and qualifications sought when hiring. He may also address industry-specific trends and give advice on some aspect of job seeking – résumé tips, interview tactics, etc. These sessions may be held before the job fair or they may be invite-only events for selected students from the job fair. Many employers take notes of whom they invite, so make sure you attend the information session or send the representative an email if you are unable to do so.
Student-run clubs and associations. There are hundreds of student-run clubs and associations that are available for participation. Some are campus chapters of national organizations, like American Marketing Association or Net Impact, while others are local initiatives. Many of these entities are focused on out-of-the classroom professional development for specific majors, industries or career paths. For example, Student Investors Club unites co-eds who are interested in learning to manage their own investments as well as consider it as a career path. This type of club can bring in business professionals to address investment strategies as well as discuss job options in the field. Furthermore, many of these clubs will also organize field trips to employer sites so that students can get firsthand workplace knowledge.
Alumni associations. Your university's alumni association is a networking gold mine. At its very core, the association's mission is to continue to connect graduates with the school. This takes place with sporting events, social events, mentor events, informational events as well as professional development activities. Some schools host shadowing days for matched alumni and interested students. Others host formal networking activities where groups of students get time with alumni in similar fields. Many institutions give students access to a list of alumni who have expressed a willingness to provide informational interviews about their profession, company or industry. In short, the people that graduated from your school most likely remember college as one of the best times of their lives. These alums are frequently willing to lend a helping hand to a student looking to learn about life after college.
The idea of networking can be daunting to the college student/recent graduate. However, networking is really about having meaningful connections with people that are in an area of potential interest. For co-eds, this means anything you can learn outside of the classroom about the world of work, good or bad, aids in future career decisions. Career fairs, employer information sessions, clubs/association membership and alumni programs offer unparalleled "ease of networking" power. Because these events are designed for students, they present a high-impact, less-risky and convenient way to expand your career contacts before graduation. Pair attendance at these networking activities with timely and customized thank-you notes to the professionals you meet, and you are sure to stand out this fall.
Robin Reshwan is the Founder of Collegial Services, a consulting/staffing firm that connects college students, recent graduates and the organizations that hire them and a certified Women's Business Enterprise (WBE). She has interviewed, placed and hired thousands of people across a broad spectrum of companies and industries. Her career tips and advice are used by universities, national clubs/associations and businesses. A Certified Professional Résumé Writer, Robin has been honored as a Professional Business Woman of the Year by the American Business Women's Association. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa and as a Regents Scholar from University of California, Davis.