We hear a lot of different stories about how to get ahead in college in order to have a smooth transition into the workforce. Some suggest building your resume, receiving a degree, and obtaining a couple internships will be the best way to come out of college ready to start a career.
Although I don’t disagree with any of these suggestions, I have found one thing just as imperative, if not more imperative, as these other suggestions for students to do in order to separate themselves from their competition. However, few college students actually do it.
So, what is this one thing you ask?
Yes, I know what you are thinking, “Teddy, I already network, give me some better advice.”
"Networking" gets thrown around a lot in today’s business and career development landscape, but so many people undervalue its impact and have a false sense of what it means. I will use myself as an example.
One day I heard a statistic that 80% of jobs/opportunities come from your network. Although 80% seems large, it didn’t surprise me. After hearing this, I gave it some thought and started analyzing my network.
I began with an exercise, to write down every single person in my network on a piece of paper like a web, with myself in the middle. After finishing, I realized that despite of what my LinkedIn profile said, I only had around 25 REAL professional connections. And before you make fun of me, let’s look at what it really means to have a network.
A network isn’t just a list of names of all the people you know or simply all the people you are connected with on LinkedIn, but a collection of people in which you can exchange ideas, products/services, advice, time, value, and have a genuine relationship with.
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Before going any further with this article, I recommend you do the exercise. Write down your REAL professional connections and see how large your network actually is.
After realizing that my network was not anywhere near the size I thought it was, I made it a mission to meet at least one new person every week. After doing this for a year, I was not only astonished with how many people I was able to meet, but with how generous people were in offering their time.
In an interview with NPR, Matt Youngquist, the president of Career Horizons, explains the failed approach of many professionals and students when they are looking for a job. "At least 70 percent, if not 80 percent, of jobs are not published," he says. "And yet most people are spending 70 or 80 percent of their time surfing the net versus getting out there, talking to employers, taking some chances [and] realizing that the vast majority of hiring is friends and acquaintances hiring other trusted friends and acquaintances."
With a bit of research, you can find a world of amazing people to talk to. I went into every meeting with objectives, but I always had one goal in mind, to have them close the meeting by saying, “Let’s stay in touch.” In most cases, I achieved this. How I did it was easy; I simply showed interest in other people and presented myself in a way in which my own concerns came second to my interest in them.
"You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you." - Dale Carnegie
What astounded me more than anything else about my meetings, was how many people told me how so few college students and young professionals were doing what I was doing. I was going a step beyond my peers and it led to people remembering my name. Although I was happy that I was differentiating myself, I wondered why other college students weren’t doing what I was doing.
I know how my generation is, we are always looking for instant gratification, yet fail to notice that instant results don’t come from instant action, but through resilience in a cause over time.
College students fail to realize that being a college student is a valuable asset. What do I mean by this? You will nearly always get a positive response from professionals if you simply state you are a college student looking to figure things out and would love to learn more about what they do. Being a college student opens a lot of doors because people ultimately have empathy for those in early stages of their adult life/career, and find it humbling when you show interest in learning more about them.
In addition, there is a strange phenomenon where as soon as you receive your diploma, you lose a sense of innocence about you and people are not as compelled to offer their time. So with this being said, take advantage of your time of being able to call yourself a college student, and network!
Whether your biggest concern as a college student is getting a job, starting your own company, or trying to figure out what you want to do with your life; I believe that networking isn’t just something you should be doing, but something you need to be doing!
Reach out someone new this week, and go with an open mind. You may go into the conversation as strangers, but you could come out as friends. Keep doing this, and you will be amazed with how your network and opportunities that come with it, will grow exponentially.
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” - African Proverb
Teddy Baldassarre is currently the Director of Business Development at Wisr, a software company that aims to serve career service departments in helping connect students with alumni to assist students with their career success. In his undergrad, Teddy was an avid networker and a student leader at the University of Dayton where he spearheaded multiple initiatives and organizations that helped students connect with industry professionals to expand their career opportunities.
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