Basic Networking Skills For Recent Graduates
Earning a degree takes a whole lot of time, effort, and money. It’s such a challenge that it’s easy to feel a certain sense of entitlement once you’re done as if all of your hard work should guarantee that the job of your dreams falls right into your lap. In the real world, of course, that rarely happens.
Instead, many recent graduates learn an even harder lesson once they go out into the real world to begin their careers. The lesson is that the old saying ‘it’s not what you know, but who you know’ isn’t all that far from the truth. Unfortunately, most degree programs don’t spend that much time preparing students for what they’re going to have to do to find their way into the job they want. To help, here are the basic networking skills that recent graduates need to jumpstart their fledgling careers.
The Ability to Demonstrate Value
The main reason that earning a degree doesn’t guarantee success in the job market is simple supply and demand. Each year, more and more students are earning degrees, but they’re competing for fewer available openings. That reality means that you’ll need to be able to communicate exactly what sets you apart from the pack in a clear and concise manner. This is a skill that’s often taught to job seekers when they prepare for interviews, but it’s also something you can use to land those interviews in the first place. When you’re approaching networking, either at in-person events or through relevant online venues, it’s important to be able to let the people you’re meeting know about your most important transferable skills. Make sure you’re ready to explain how you honed those skills, as well as specific examples of how you’ve already put them to use. You never know when someone you’re speaking with may need exactly your mix of talents, so be ready to share them.
A Willingness to Branch Out
More often than not, recent graduates tend to stay within their immediate social circles when they first seek to make valuable professional connections. That tends to lead to a rather myopic view of the possibilities they have in their chosen field. It’s vital to make an effort to strike up conversations with strangers, as that’s often where the greatest opportunities lay – even if you’re not terribly outgoing. For example, it’s a good idea to identify important players (companies or individuals) in your chosen field and find ways to connect with them. Today, social media makes that easier than ever, and the internet is filled with countless blogs, message boards, and industry association sites where decision makers gather. Taking the time to participate in the discussions you find in those places helps you to become an established presence with industry insiders and could lead to useful connections. If you can, it’s also a good idea to try and engage with industry influencers by responding to their social media posts (respectfully, of course).
A Fine-Tuned Elevator Pitch
Professional networking, when done well, can happen at any time, in any location. Sometimes, you could have a chance meeting with an individual that could open up doors for you, and it pays to be ready. When that happens, you won’t have time to tell the person your life story, so you’re going to need to master a skill that even seasoned entrepreneurs sometimes struggle with: the elevator pitch. Put simply, it’s a practiced speech that boils down who you are, what you want, and why the person hearing it should care into no more than thirty seconds. Few people are adept at this naturally, so you’ll want to enlist the help of some of your peers so you can fine-tune your pitch before you ever have to use it for real. Make sure that the people helping you are objective, so they can tell you what’s working and suggest improvements. If possible, don’t let them know in advance what you’re going to say, so their real-time responses can let you know if you’re on the right track.
The most difficult skill to master when you aren’t used to networking is the ability to keep everyone you’re meeting straight. Networking is a long game, which means that someone you interact with today could turn into a job opportunity months, or even years, down the line. In fact, most of the people you’ll be networking with won’t even have the ability to hire you themselves but might be in the right position to recommend you to someone who can. For that reason, it’s critical to hone your organizational skills and develop a contact database to track everyone you meet. Keeping detailed notes on your interactions will allow you to follow up on conversations, touch base at regular intervals, and even map how the people you’re communicating with fit together in the grand scheme. That’s the real key to making professional networking worthwhile, and failing to do so can spoil all of your other efforts.
Networking doesn’t always pay off overnight. Even so, it’s something that almost every professional has to work at throughout their career, so starting early will always pay dividends. If you’re a recent graduate, do what you can to put these skills into action and begin to build up your contacts. If you do, you’ll be sure to get your career off to a great start and have plentiful opportunities for years to come.
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