How to Network with Personal Contacts
Your Very Best Personal Contacts
Ironically, your very best network contacts are sitting there with you every day, in class, at lunch, even in the library. Your best network contacts are other students who are also in your major and seeking jobs in your field. If they are truly active in their job search, they will have access to additional first-line contacts which may be able to greatly benefit you. The relationship should be one of give and take, so that you are also willing to provide them with networking contact information.
Be sure to ask who they are contacting and what kinds of results they are getting. Find out if there are any employers on their list that you have missed. There can often be a great synergy among students who have worked together for the past several years. The other person may be searching another geographical area and happy to pass on leads in the areas in which you are interested. You may be seeking jobs in a particular industry and are happy to pass on leads in the other industries to them. Some students have even organized informal job search groups to provide networking support on campus. If there isn't a job networking group (either formal or informal) organized on your campus, put a bulletin board up on your wall, offer a beer to all those who stop in with "Hot Tips for Job Seekers," and watch your board fill up quickly. Your Job Search Central may indeed become Job Search Central for many others as well.
Your Second-Best Personal Contacts
The next best network contacts are also close to home—all your friends who graduated last semester or last year. These are college grads who have (hopefully) already completed their successful job search. Unless they burned or buried their notes when the job offer came through, they probably have scores of potential contacts whom they worked long and hard to dig up. Think of it as using last year's chemistry final to prep for this year's final. They have all the "class notes" that will get you off to a quick start. In addition, they are often well placed in the field and can give you insider support like no one else.
While it may be difficult to locate your old friends after graduation if you have not kept in touch via Facebook, you can probably still locate them through the Alumni Office. If that fails, try to locate them through a past email address or phone number. Or send them a letter first class to their old campus address. If it is within one year and they gave the post office their forwarding address, your letter will reach them via mail forwarding, or it might be returned to you undelivered with their new address stamped on the outside of the envelope.
The Apple on the Desk Technique
As previously stated, some professors are rather poorly connected with the work world outside campus. However, there are two types of professors who have impressive external contacts, some of which you may not be aware of at all. But you should be.
Remember the apple on the desk routine that some kids went through back in first grade? Well, that technique of endearing oneself to the teacher may have lost some of its luster in the collegiate world, but its value has not diminished. There are several professors on your campus who are able to help you tremendously in your job search if you are willing to reach out to them.
The first type of professor network contact is the Company Connection professor. This professor usually is a department head or teaches some of the required courses for upper level students. The professor may teach the capstone class for the major or may be involved in academic advisement within the major. The key is that companies will target this professor as their campus connection, the one who will steer them to the "prize students" and, as appropriate, steer the prize students to the companies. Many employers spend a great deal of time and energy cultivating these relationships. It may be with more than one professor on larger campuses, but at some campuses all students are required to go through a particular professor's capstone class. And that professor usually has an excellent feel for who will be the outstanding hires from the upcoming graduating class.
The other type of professor who can assist greatly in your job search is the Company Consultant professor who spends time consulting with outside companies. Ever notice how vacant the campus becomes during summer? Where do you think most professors go? Off to terrorize nine-year-olds as a counselor at some backwoods summer camp? Unlikely. Most are either doing further academic work or are consulting with businesses. Those who are consulting are likely to be very well connected. And they are often willing and able to help those students who seek out assistance in their job search.
So if you thought that your profs were merely a sideline distraction on your way to your future goal of work, you may want to reconsider your teacher-student relationships. You are being evaluated from the moment you set foot on that campus. All of your contacts can be potentially helpful or potentially damaging. Treat all people with common courtesy and respect. And it does not hurt to put an apple on the desk (figuratively) of the professors who teach the upper level classes. Most professors develop a personal relationship with less than 10 percent of their students. Please include yourself in that 10 percent with all of your professors, especially those who are well connected. Developing this personal relationship is as simple as participating in class and stopping by the professor's office during open office hours. Attempt to learn more about the subject than what is taught in class. Attempt to internalize the classroom information so that you can better understand its practical work world application. And attempt to develop a relationship with your professor above and beyond the lecturer/notetaker passive relationship model many students accept as the norm. Don't do it just as a selfish ambition for using the professor in your job search, but rather because you sincerely want to learn more about the subject and the profession.
This contact alone could pay off enormous dividends in your job search. Yet that is merely a by-product of your taking the time to develop personal relationships with your professors. If you do so, you will greatly benefit. But it is up to you to make the first move. Your professors will not typically come looking for you. You must go looking for them.