Before You Work, You Must NETwork: 10 Tips to Help 2015 Grads Find a Job They'll Love

Jo-Carolyn Goode | 8/12/2015, 1:31 p.m.
Whether you walked across a stage this spring or received your diploma after a summer session, congratulations on writing your ...
Alaina G. Levine

Hoboken, NJ (August 2015)—Whether you walked across a stage this spring or received your diploma after a summer session, congratulations on writing your last paper and studying for your final exam. Now that autumn is on the horizon, for the first time you aren't headed back to school—you're looking for a job. And finding one sooner (much sooner!) would be better than later. Don't panic, and don't tell Mom and Dad you'll need your old bedroom back just yet. With the right strategy, you can maximize your odds of finding a position that utilizes the degree you've worked so hard to earn (instead of resigning yourself to a low-paying survival job).

Alaina G. Levine says that the secret to success might just lie in who you know (or who you can get to know).

"Of all the tools in your job-search toolbox, networking should be at the very top of your to-do list," says Levine, author of Networking for Nerds: Find, Access and Land Hidden Game-Changing Career Opportunities Everywhere (Wiley, July 2015, ISBN: 978-1-118-66358-5, $29.95, www.alainalevine.com). "Networking is so critically important because it gives you access to jobs and other career-advancing opportunities that are not always advertised. As many as 90 percent of jobs are 'hidden' and are obtained solely through networking."

Levine explains that networking (which encompasses appropriate self-promotion) makes you known to decision-makers who, once they recognize your value, can engage you as an employee. Not only will these individuals think of you first for an opening on their team; they may even create a job specifically for you based on your singular value proposition.

That said, Levine acknowledges that the thought of networking makes many people extremely nervous—especially recent grads who are making professional connections for the first time. That's where Networking for Nerds comes in. In this step-by-step guide, Levine offers concrete insight on crafting professional networks that are mutually beneficial and that support the advancement of your career goals. NOTE to EDITOR: See attached tipsheet for 12 how-to tips for networking newbies.

Here, she shares 10 things to keep in mind as you begin to make career-enhancing connections:

Recognize your value to prospective employers. You've gained a list of marketable skills over the course of pursuing your degree. Participating in extracurricular activities, internships, philanthropic opportunities, and even personal endeavors (like planning a family reunion) have taught you a lot, too. Levine says Step One on the road to finding a job should be making a list of all these activities and noting the skills you used to be successful in each.

"Those skills might range from the broad—like being an effective public speaker—to the specific, like being fluent in Spanish," she says. "Being able to clearly communicate your value via the skills you bring to the table is important, because you never know when a networking opportunity might present itself. With this list fresh in your mind you'll be able to represent yourself well even if your résumé is nowhere in sight."

Get specific about what you can (and want to) do. Some candidates take a scattershot approach to finding a job by applying to every open position they see. But Levine advises a more targeted strategy. Before launching your job search campaign, sketch out the broad outlines of the career you'd like to have by asking yourself questions like, What skills do I have that I enjoy using? What tasks do I enjoy doing?

"Identify major and minor career goals, such as wanting to work in the pharmaceutical industry or living in New York City," Levine instructs. "Then do an analysis of your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) to identify parallels between your interests and goals and your skills. Being able to articulate what you can do and want to do, and why, will be a valuable tool in making sure that your networking efforts steer you in a good direction."

Get real about who desires you. Your degree title does not necessarily determine your job path. The fact that your degree is in sociology doesn't mean you can only be a social worker, and a degree in physics doesn't mean the only positions you can fill must have the word "physicist" in the title. Many jobs and industries hire people not because of their degrees but due to all of the skills and abilities they acquired while learning that subject. The point is, your career opportunities are much more expansive than what your advisor may have told you.

With this in mind, you will have to find out what companies and sectors do want employees with your full skill set. This will require thoughtful research and, of course, networking.

"Review job boards to research organizations and positions," Levine advises. "Conduct Google news searches for company info, then start reaching out and networking to conduct informational interviews. Ask questions about the types of problems that are solved in companies that are on your radar. Look for and be open-minded about where you can leverage your personal value proposition in a position there. And don't be afraid to say to a recruiter, 'I know how to do that. I can help you with that,' even if they say they are looking only for people with a major in X and you have a major in Y. This is a perfect example of how networking can help you create your own opportunity!"

Organize and update your marketing materials. Whether you're networking or going after a job via the conventional application route, your résumé, cover letters, brand statements, business card, and/or LinkedIn profile and other social media site content need to be ready to go. "Keep these important materials up-to-date as you prepare to 'market' yourself to potential employers and collaborators," Levine says.

Invest in and get comfortable wearing the proper attire. You will need professional garments to wear to interviews and to networking events. Like it or not, people do judge books by their covers. The good news is, there's no need to spend $500 for a suit. Levine recommends shopping at discount stores like T.J. Maxx or Marshalls where you can get quality suiting for a song and reveals that she recently bought a brand new suit at JC Penney for $40.

"Before you go shopping, do some research to find out what the appropriate clothing is for your desired field and job," she suggests. "In almost all cases it's a good idea to reduce your bling, cover your tats, remove your grill, and aim to look professional and serious about your craft. That said, your clothing should help you to feel confident, so don't wear things that you haven't worn before, know don't fit correctly, or are too revealing and thus could give someone the wrong impression of your dedication to your career."

Tidy up your online presence... Whether you are reaching out to a person for an informal conversation or applying for a job (or even if you've just met a potential contact at the gym), the first thing the other party is going to do is Google you. Then he or she will look at your LinkedIn profile. If social media contains any photos of you drunk on the beach in Mexico, or rants on blogs concerning politics and religion, now is the time to remove them.

"Update your LinkedIn profile with your current summary statement, experiences, skills, and education, and add a professional-looking portrait," Levine instructs. "Be sure to use a headline that is creative and expresses what you can do for a potential employer. And then change your privacy settings accordingly, so that your LinkedIn profile is public. Other social media sites like Facebook, which are more about social interaction and less about being professional, should be set to private—with the caveat that even with a private setting, nothing you post is ever entirely private."

...Then actively utilize social media, especially LinkedIn. LinkedIn is considered to be THE professional marketplace, so it is vital that you be present there and be seen as an active contributor. Join and be active in relevant groups: observe, contribute, and connect with members and demonstrate your commitment to the field. Do keyword searches for jobs, people, and organizations and use the "Find Alumni" tab. See "Who's Viewed Your Profile" and if someone you especially want to connect with has done so, invite them to connect and let them know you noticed that they have looked at your profile.

"This is not sleazy or sneaky in any way; I have known people who literally got jobs because they took this step," Levine confirms. "The 'Who's Viewed Your Profile' feature is often overlooked and underutilized. Remember, if someone has a profile on LinkedIn, they too want to network with new colleagues. You might even consider investing in LinkedIn Premium for a few months, which unlocks more features on this site, including a more complete list of who has looked at your profile."

Look for opportunities to demonstrate your brand. You want to share with the world what you do, how you do it, and how it can help them. This is the essence of networking and appropriate self-promotion. So seek out opportunities to spotlight your brand and demonstrate how you can solve problems for others. Even as a new grad, you can and should appropriately promote yourself. Levine recommends that you start by looking to speak at conferences, regionally-based chapters and meetings, business organizations, and mixers.

"Write an article for your association newsletter or the publication of a field in which you're interested," she continues. "Pen an op-ed for the local newspaper. Volunteer to serve on committees for your professional association, local business groups, and charities. If there's a conference or colloquium nearby, offer to drive a speaker to and from the airport (which gives you amazing face time with this professional and excellent networking ROI).

"And as you find yourself traveling, volunteer to give talks at your alma mater and attend alumni mixers in cities other than where you reside," she adds. "Most new grads don't pursue these important networking and self-promotion activities, which means if you do, the spotlight is on you and your boldness, talents, and creativity."

Engage in high-impact networking. To get the most bang for your networking buck, look for networking "nodes" where high numbers of people aggregate. Networking nodes include events, professional societies, conferences, websites, and even individual people themselves. (Here's a tip: Identify people you would like to network with on Twitter and see who is following them!)

"But don't stop there," says Levine. "Ask your trusted mentors for referrals of people you should or could be speaking with, seek out fellow alums and friends, and peruse directories of professional societies. All of these avenues can put you in the path of decision-makers."

Tap into your institution's career resources. Even if you have already graduated, your alma mater's career center may still be open to alums. It will have job listings, of course, but it may also offer professional development webinars and host networking affairs in concert with the alumni association (which you should definitely join). If one is available, scroll through the alumni directory to find fellow alums with whom you can network and have informal conversations.

"Additionally, speak with your current and former mentors, fellow students, and even staff and postdoctoral associates in your department and let them know you are looking to network for career opportunities," Levine suggests. "And finally, here's an underutilized tip: Check out your institution's online calendar for the last year to see what events have taken place and what representatives from your target industry have spoken on campus. For example, if you see that Ms. X from Company Y was a colloquium speaker in the physics department last year, contact the colloquium committee chair or department head and ask to be introduced."

"As you network, remember not to make the process all about you—even though your desire for a steady paycheck no doubt feels very urgent," Levine concludes. "You'll be much more successful if you seek to craft win-win partnerships with individuals to whom you can offer some value, and vice versa. Find out what their needs are and think about how you can assist them with their problems. And as you begin to identify people with whom you would like to speak, be proactive in initiating meaningful contact. In most cases, this will mean writing a short email to ask for an informational interview. This may be all that is needed to start a partnership that will land you that dream job!"

Networking 101: 12 Tips for Newbies

By Alaina G. Levine, author of Networking for Nerds: Find, Access and

Land Hidden Game-Changing Career Opportunities Everywhere

(Wiley, July 2015, ISBN: 978-1-118-66358-5, $29.95, www.alainalevine.com)

If you're a recent graduate, you might be thinking, This networking thing sounds great and I'd love to get started...but how, exactly, do I do it? Never fear. If a networking event is looming on your horizon, Alaina G. Levine is here with 12 proven tips to help start out on the right foot—and stay there. Keep in mind that many of these tips can be adapted for use in any connecting opportunities you might run across organically (think connecting with the person sitting next to you on a plane)—not just at events specifically earmarked for networking.

At networking events, remember that you're all in the same boat. No matter what the particulars of the event are, everyone is there specifically to network. They all have the same goals as you: to find people with whom they can potentially craft win-win partnerships. Use this concept to boost your confidence, especially if mixing and mingling doesn't come naturally to you.

Dress for success. When you RSVP for an event, inquire about the dress code if that information has not been provided. Make sure to wear professional-looking clothing to demonstrate your seriousness about your craft.

Talk to the man (or woman) in the mirror. Before you attend a networking event, practice introducing yourself in front of a mirror. Enunciate your name loudly, clearly, and slowly enough that people can hear it clearly. Smile as you speak. And here's one more use for a mirror: Before you enter the event space, do a final check of your appearance (especially your teeth!) in the restroom!

Make it easy on yourself. At an event, look for "easy" opportunities to introduce yourself to people, such as while standing in line to get your name tag or food. You can also approach people who are standing alone, since you know you won't be interrupting them.

Don't show up empty-handed. While you never know what opportunities will crop up until you're at an event, it's still a good idea to go in with some idea of what you'd like to achieve. Be prepared to articulate your professional goals and to describe the skills, strengths, and abilities you bring to the table.

You don't need an opening line. Worried about "cold calling"? Don't be. A smile, eye contact, a hearty handshake, and, "Hi, my name is..." is perfect to start the conversation.

You don't need a closing line, either! Don't interrupt someone and run away, of course. Rather, when there is a pause in the conversation, you can extend your hand and say, "Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. I think there might be an opportunity to work together. Can I follow up with you to make a phone/Skype appointment in the next few weeks?"

If you see an opportunity, seize it! If you see someone with whom you really want to speak, take advantage of the opportunity now. Don't interrupt the other person if he or she is with someone, but migrate in that direction, stand nearby, listen to the conversation, and see how you could potentially inject yourself into the discussion at the right opportunity. This is perfectly acceptable behavior at a party or professional event.

Aim for an 80/20 ratio of listening to speaking. Instead of dominating the conversation, ask questions and get people talking about their favorite subject: themselves. For example, after you introduce yourself you could ask, "What do you do?" Follow up with, "What an interesting job! How did you get into that line of work?" Or my favorite, "What's the best part of your job?" Tap into the pleasure part of their brain and they will remember that you reminded them of the joy they feel in their profession.

Play the field. At networking affairs, don't spend an hour with one person. You have to optimize your time, just as everyone else in attendance does too. So plan to have short mini conversations at the party and then follow up with them later (see below).

Exchange contact info and business cards. Whenever you make a new contact, don't walk away without exchanging information. Don't count on someone's promise to "find you on LinkedIn." The other person may remember...or not.

Close the loop. If you've promised to follow up with someone, do it. Ask for a longer, more in-depth "informal conversation" or "informational interview." Remember, the networking event is primarily a launch pad to help you create mutually beneficial relationships. It is the first of many steps in building collaborations that can lead to jobs!

About the Author:

Alaina G. Levine is the author of Networking for Nerds as well as a celebrated and internationally known speaker, comedian, career consultant, writer, and entrepreneur. She is president of Quantum Success Solutions, an enterprise dedicated to advancing the professional expertise of both nerds and non-nerds alike. To learn more, visit www.alainalevine.com or follow @AlainaGLevine.

About the Book:

Networking for Nerds: Find, Access and Land Hidden Game-Changing Career Opportunities Everywhere (Wiley, July 2015, ISBN: 978-1-118-66358-5, $29.95, www.alainalevine.com) is available at bookstores nationwide, from major online booksellers, and direct from the publisher by calling 800-225-5945. In Canada, call 800-567-4797. For more information, please visit the book's page on www.wiley.com.