Wouldn't it be great if there were a way to parlay the typical activities of a college student into a job upon graduation? As it happens, there is such a way. It's called networking, and it fits in wonderfully with all the things that college students normally do.
Take all the socializing you typically do as a college student, crank it up a few notches, and you have networking of the sort that can truly help you land a job upon graduation. When you first enroll in college, you don't necessarily think about the kinds of hard-core networking activities that will really benefit your job search later on. But the earlier you start, the better off you will be.
By the way, the networking activities discussed here should supplement, not substitute for, traditional job-hunting activities, such as sending out resumes, participating in on-campus recruiting, and using the Internet in your job search.
Recommendations from college career counselors as to when college students should begin networking range from freshman year to the middle or end of the junior year.
Certainly freshman year is not too early to get to know your professors, especially your adviser. Getting to know your cohort students, a process that comes naturally to the collegiate experience, will also lay the networking groundwork in your first year.
A good way to meet as many other students as possible is to participate in as many organizations and activities as your academic schedule will permit you to handle.
Be a curious friend; finding out as much as possible about your classmates and their interests, along with their families and parents' occupations, can provide valuable information that you may want to recall as you approach graduation. Be sure to reciprocate with information that will help others. Freshman year is also the time to consider whether to join a fraternity or sorority. If you are holding down a job, establish relationships with your boss and coworkers.
By sophomore year, you are probably beginning to narrow your career goals, which makes your second year an excellent time to embark on a series of informational interviews that will help bring your career into focus. (For more about what an informational interview is and how to conduct one, see: Quintessential Careers: Informational Interviewing Tutorial.) Continue to forge ties with professors, other students, and people you work with.
Start thinking about obtaining an internship in your career field -- which can yield excellent network contacts -- for the summer between your sophomore and junior years or for part of your junior year in school. If your career goal is well-defined at this point, sophomore year is a good time to join student chapters of professional organizations (or obtain a student membership to a regular chapter).
Junior year is key. Start your most serious networking push now by doing the following:
Networking activities should be a major focus of your pivotal senior year:
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker's Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
Katharine Hansen, Ph.D., creative director and associate publisher of Quintessential Careers, is an educator, author, and blogger who provides content for Quintessential Careers, edits QuintZine, an electronic newsletter for jobseekers, and blogs about storytelling in the job search at A Storied Career. Katharine, who earned her PhD in organizational behavior from Union Institute & University, Cincinnati, OH, is author of Dynamic Cover Letters for New Graduates and A Foot in the Door: Networking Your Way into the Hidden Job Market (both published by Ten Speed Press), as well as Top Notch Executive Resumes (Career Press); and with Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., Dynamic Cover Letters, Write Your Way to a Higher GPA (Ten Speed), and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Study Skills (Alpha). Visit her personal Website or reach her by e-mail at kathy(at)quintcareers.com.
Be sure to take advantage of all the career networking tools, articles, and resources found in our The Art of Career Networking section of Quintessential Careers.