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Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Column: Networking 101

I’ll let you in on a little secret: a lot of jobs are never posted online. In fact, employers only fill 5 to 7 percent of jobs by selecting from the pool of electronically submitted resumes. So why are we spending so much of our time in front of the computer looking for jobs?

I’m totally guilty of this too – it’s easy to hide behind my MacBook. Browsing the web for openings, submitting an application and crossing our fingers make us feel productive without having to talk to strangers and step out of our comfort zones.

But “spray and pray” isn’t a very effective way to get hired. It’s what every other job seeker out there is doing. Whether you’re graduating soon or you’ve been on the job market for six months, it’s time to re-think your strategy and get off the computer. The fact is, about 80 percent of jobs are acquired by what’s considered the number one job search secret: Networking.

One of the most common misconceptions about networking is that you have to have an uncle who’s a senator or be a personal buddy of Bill Gates. “I don’t know how to network, I don’t know anyone!” is a common complaint.   

Networking is defined as “establishing mutually beneficial relationships with people in your field.” There are a lot of negative assumptions about networking among students, but it doesn’t have to be difficult or intimidating. In fact, you’re doing it already in ways you don’t realize.

Networking is building relationships over shared interests, and you’re doing this already by meeting new people on campus, joining clubs, volunteering, talking to professors and even Facebooking (not so much posting pictures of drunken debauchery, but keeping in touch with old classmates, roommates and friends-of-friends).

Getting advice and referrals is an essential aspect of networking. It’s also talking to people to explore careers, share resources, and yes, find a job.

Your old IM Frisbee teammate who graduated last year may not be in the position to hire anyone, but maybe he knows of openings at other companies or can put in a good word for you to his current employer. Maintaining professional relationships with contacts allows you to find opportunities that you may not otherwise come across.

Fariha Naveed, who graduated last year with a degree in science and technology studies, got her current position at Brocade through her strong networking skills.

She attended the career fair last fall and got an interview, which went well. But even though her interviewers thought she was a strong candidate, her experience didn’t quite match the job because it was a more technical position.

And that could have been the end of it, but Naveed followed through by networking. “Going into the interview and expressing my interest in the company helped me expand my network. I connected with a recruiter who ended up helping me a lot,” she said.

Her contact found an opening that fit her skill set better and referred Naveed to another recruiter for that position. “I love my job [in Human Resources] and have learned so much,” she said.

Some tips to expand your professional network:

1. Sign up for LinkedIn, a.k.a. the professional Facebook.

Start connecting with friends, family, coworkers and professionals. Fill out your profile completely (don’t forget recommendations) and join groups related to your field. 

2. Attend career fairs, company information sessions, etc.

Career fairs and info sessions are great for networking with company reps. As for other events, you never know whom you’ll meet in a special lecture, a Careers in English panel discussion, or Career Speed Dating, which actually is being held today, 4 to 6 p.m. in Freeborn Hall.   

3. Join a professional association.

There’s a group for just about every field or industry out there, and most offer discounted rates for student members. Look for a local chapter or volunteer at a convention happening in your area. Google is a helpful resource.

Following through on all leads is critical in networking. When you connect with a recruiter at a career fair, be sure to send them an e-mail to reiterate your interest. If a professional at Career Speed Dating informs you of an opportunity, it’s not enough to send an electronic application like everyone else; reach out to your contact to make sure you’re being considered. Send thank-yous like they’re going out of style.

Albert Einstein said insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If you’re sending out 50 applications and not getting callbacks, it’s time to try something new. Get out there and start networking. It might mean the difference of finding employment in a month or a year.

JENNIFER KIM could be your first LinkedIn connection for you LI newbs. Reach her at jsnkim@ucdavis.edu.

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