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What does it mean to network?

Student Career Placement Consultant

Women talk at a networking event. (Photo via By Dell's Official Flickr Page)I truly believe that networking is one of the keys to a successful job search, and I’m not alone. According to research, at least 60% of all successful job searches can be attributed to networking. However, what I’ve discovered recently is that, even though the term “networking” is ubiquitous, many of my students don’t know exactly what it means or how to do it.

In short, networking is creating connections between yourself and others, and you’ve been doing it all your life. You already have a network that consists of family, friends, neighbors, classmates, teammates, teachers, and others you have interacted with throughout your life.

The crucial difference when we talk about networking in terms of the job search is that you need to build a professional network—a network of individuals who work in, or with people in, the career field that you hope to enter. One of the tricky things about networking is that you can’t always tell who might be a relevant individual, so you just want to keep building your network because those people who aren’t professionally relevant may have people in their networks who are!

In this post, I’ll give an overview of what I see as some of the basic ways to network (starting with a couple of the most obvious).

  • Attend events specifically designed to create or foster networking opportunities. These include career fairs, meet ups, and meetings of professional organizations.

  • Build your connections on LinkedIn by adding new contacts and asking for introductions.

  • Connect through your family—parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins can all be sources for new contacts in your career field.

  • Connect through your friends and neighbors and through their families!

  • Do volunteer work and make friends with other volunteers.

  • Join your alumni association.

  • Go to public talks given by local business people hosted by organizations such as the Better Business Bureau or the Chamber of Commerce.

  • Join a service organization such as Rotary Club (or Rotoract, for younger professionals) or Lions Club.

  • Join a group of like-minded hobbyists (e.g., model railroaders, poets, gamers, gardeners, cooks) or athletes (e.g., cyclists, tennis players, runners).

  • Stay in touch with college professors.

  • Join a support group for your local museum, orchestra, ballet, or theater company.

  • Take classes—and I’m not necessarily talking about college classes. I mean take a class to learn a new skill such as cooking, yoga, home brewing, quilting, drawing, or carpentry.

  • Affiliate with a religious or community organization and be an active member.

And of course, crucially, you’ll need to make sure that all of the members of your network know about your career goals, so you need to be prepared to concisely provide information about yourself, and what you hope to do, when you talk with current members of your network or meet people you want to add to your network.

Share your thoughts!