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Networking your way to the best job opportunities.

This year is one of the most hopeful years we have seen in a long time: the connections between the job market and the global market seem to be becoming evident to American business and politicians alike. However, the job market continues to be very tight, and graduates looking for jobs for the first time must look beyond the traditional avenues of the job search. In addition to the tried-and-true methods of the on-campus interviews and the resources of the career planning and placement centers, seniors and grads need to do something more--something extra--to accelerate and enhance the process of finding a first job in this market. Sophisticated and aggressive networking is one of the ways you can add another dimension to your search.

"What is a network and how do I build one?"

A network is a group of people with interests similar to yours who have information they are willing to share with you about those interests. They are willing to provide you with that information because of 1) a personal knowledge of you and your shared interest, and 2) a level of professionalism that trusts that you will not abuse this relationship. This relationship gives you access to inside information about jobs, people, particular industries, technology, trends, and plans for the future. This kind of knowledge gives you an invaluable edge to efficiently and effectively look for a job.

"Why do I need to do networking? What kind of skills do I need?"

You need a network to create or identify job opportunities that will use the skills you've just spent four years, working your buns off, to get. A network is a self-constructed entity. You make it yourself, you maintain it yourself, and you let it live or die yourself. If well tended, it will keep you in touch with people who will help you further your career for years: every time you make a job change you will be going back to the network you built.

"So how do I build one?"

You build a network by talking to people. You build a network by telling your story over and over, getting better at it all the time, honing your ideas against the rough stone of what people have to say to you. As you become more at ease with the process, you will also discover that you will need to take a bit of control of that process.

After you have begun building a network, you will realize that some of the information you are getting from people is useless to your job search. It might help if you think of your network as a daisy shape: the central circle is the center of your focus; the individual petals are other areas that just aren't as "hot" right now. You will want to keep the center circle pretty flexible as your search expands or narrows. You may want to explore

a divergent option in some detail now and again, but your aim is not to stray too far from your central circle.

"How do I keep track of all this stuff"

Record keeping is the hard part. You need to set up a system, which can be as sophisticated as a database or as simple as file cards. You don't want to find yourself in the embarrassing position of realizing in the middle of your introduction that this is someone you talked to just yesterday, nor do you want to be having a conversation with someone who remembers you but whom you don't remember.

File cards are nice and familiar; if you use the 5" x 8" ones you can keep notes of each conversation you had, personal data you picked up, like sports interests or non-business activities. Keep in mind that important information will accumulate on these cards, so be sure that you brief yourself before you pick up the phone or walk into an interview; a briefing will give you a decided edge. If you're more comfortable with keeping all this on a computer, I urge you to do it that way.

"How do I use a network?"

Use a network to put yourself in touch with people in companies where you want to work. Use a network to get together with people who are doing the kind of work you want do. Use a network to find out in what directions specific industries are headed. Use your network to find out who is starting a new company in your field. Use a network to talk to people who make hiring decisions. Use a network to talk to people who know other people who know other people.

Then ask if there is anyone else to whom they could refer you. Write it down.

"What are the ground rules for how to do this?"

Some of the rules are just common sense: be polite, listen carefully, ask relevant questions.

Some of the specific rules for making strong networks are not so common-sense, but have evolved through the last few years as people realized the value of good networking:

* Use your network to search within a specific area of interest.

* Do not use a network to help you decide what you might want to do.

* Allow several days for a contact to get back to you; working people have busy schedules, may be out of town, might be in the habit of returning all unknown calls on Friday.

* Follow up on visits or calls promptly; doing so will set you apart from all the others.

* Do not ever, ever, ever give a contact's name to someone else without the contact's permission.

* Keep records of your contacts and conversations.

* Ask if there is anyone else to whom they could refer you; write it down.

"Are there rules or etiquette about networking?"

* Always tell the contact who referred you, then give a bit of your background.

* Always ask if you may call again--and always ask when would be convenient.

* Limit your calls to each person. Even the most responsive contact has work to do; too-frequent calls will turn initial good will into polite sufferance.

* If someone sounds busy, he/she probably is. Ask if there is a better time to talk.

* It is considered good form to send a polite, brief note to someone who has spent a large chunk of time with you--whether it be on the phone or in person.

* If you and a contact seem to have a great deal to talk about, it is reasonable and pleasant to ask that person to lunch to talk further. You, of course, will pick up the tab; for that reason, you will also want to pick the place. Don't get too fancy; everyone knows students can't afford fancy, and won't be offended by plain but good.

* It is considered bad form to say anything negative about another company, professors, people who referred you or other interviews you had. If you will say bad things about others, who's to assume you won't do the same to him or her? No one will give you any information, and they certainly won't refer you to someone else.

"How do I get the names for my network"

Start by using some of the traditional and familiar sources of information: the alumnus who has told the career planning center that he/she will talk to seniors or new grads about his/her work in your major; the neighbor who works in a great company or field; the friend of your parents or a relative who is doing some interesting work in your area; a professor who has industry contacts. Tell these people what you are trying to do and ask if they are willing to talk to you about their company, the work involved, with and the job opportunities there.

Then ask if there is anyone else to whom they could refer you. Write it down.

"Ok, I've got some names: What do I say?"

Remember, these are openers for a professional position; you will need to be both professional and persuasive yourself. Try some of these scripts for opening lines; they're short and to the point, give sufficient information without being too chatty.

To the alumnus who told the career planning office he/she would talk to fellow graduates:

* "Hi, my name is -------------. The State University Office of Career Planning has said you might be willing to talk to business finance majors like yourself about opportunities in your industry. When would you have time to talk? I'd like to get together with you this week, if that's convenient."

To the friend of your mother's aunt's sister-in-law (some referrals are pretty tenuous...):

* "Hello, my name is ------------------. ------------- gave me your name. I am a business finance major from State and am looking for information on job opportunities in the widget industry. ----------- and I were discussing the industry the other day and she said you were quite knowledgeable and suggested I call you. When would you have time to talk?"

To the industry contact your professor in your major suggested:

* "Hello, this is -----------. I am a student intern working with Dr. Jones in his global economics modeling lab at State. Dr. Jones suggested that I call you, as I am going to graduate at the end of this quarter and was interested in pursuing this kind of work as a professional. Dr. Jones said you could be very helpful in pointing me in the right direction."

Then just be quiet for several seconds; give the person time to think about how he or she might help. You've come at this person out of the blue, probably in the middle of something on which he/she's working. If it isn't a good time, he/she'll say so, or you can suggest it isn't. Be sure to ask when it would be more convenient.

Then ask if there is anyone else to whom he/she could refer you. Write it down.

Generally speaking, people want to be helpful. As you get more and more names, and as you talk to those people, you will discover there are some who are extremely helpful and some who are not. You may not have hit them on the right day, or they may be just too busy, or they really may not think they can help--don't waste your time or theirs. You can thank them politely, send a short written note and call it quits. They simply don't meet your needs for a member of your network.

Most people won't turn you down flat; if someone does, with a "Sorry, I can't help you with that," you should ask if there is a more convenient time. If the answer is still "no," it may be that the company has just announced a layoff, or this is someone who truly cannot help. Be polite, thank him/her for his/her time and...ask if there is anyone else to whom he/she could refer you. Write it down. Then cross him/her off your list.

When someone has been able to help, may have invited you in for an interview, possibly has even made introductions of you to other people within his/her company, it is not inappropriate to ask for further information or contacts. One way is to ask about professional associations in the field--a professional organization which he/she might have found helpful, or to which his/her colleagues in the profession might belong. Most associations have reduced student membership fees, some require no fees at all until the member is employed in the profession. Most associations produce membership address lists which are usually free to members. Every person on the list is a potential contact.

"How do I know when a contact has dried up?"

The signs of a dead end are pretty evident: Your phone calls won't be returned, your contact will have the secretary screen your calls so he/she is always "out," the voicemail messages will always get lost. Don't worry about it. This is not a response to you personally; chances are that your source has run out of helpfulness. If he or she is honest, he or she will tell you he or she has done everything he or she can; if he or she doesn't like giving bad news, then the dead end signs fall into place.

Sometimes there are signals to rejuvenate a contact: a news item that the company had a great fiscal year, stock prices are soaring and their R&D department is hiring again. You may want to make another call, especially if it has been several months since you last talked. Business conditions and career fortunes change over time; your dried-up contact may have a new job, be looking for fresh new talent, knows he/she talked to a bright young grad several months ago but can't remember the name. Your call could be fortuitous for both of you.

"How do I keep this network working for me?"

Network management techniques include noting the date of every contact you make with every person--this is where your file system comes in very handy. You will be dying to call the last person you talked to who was so nice and helpful, but if your records say you talked to him/her just last week, today will be too soon. If you saw an article in the paper about his/her company, however, and want to talk about it, clip the article and send it with a note: "Congratulations on a fine quarterly report! Will this mean an upturn in hiring activity?" Sign it legibly--even better, send it on a notepad sheet imprinted with your name--and include your phone number.

Working on the hot contacts without letting the rest get cold means devoting some time and energy to this process. The article you see, for instance, might be about an industry shift. You can make several copies of the article and send them to all the contacts you've made in that industry, with a note to the effect of: "Illuminating article in Business Week. I'd be interested in talking with you about it. Is this a trend you are seeing in your company?" Add your phone number and wait. You will find that people often respond to such notes.

Maintaining both style and substance is the key. You don't write notes that don't deserve being read, so be sure that what you send is directly relevant to your contact's industry, his/her job, his/her company or a topic you have discussed--even if it's not business related. Sending a busy person something that's not worth reading lets him or her assume that you don't take this relationship seriously. It will go dead on you.

Following up with all the contacts you make is critical. The power of the written word is sorely underestimated, but those who provide a note of thanks, a relevant article or even an acknowledgement that a referral was helpful, set themselves apart as classy and professional, the way you want to be when a contact is thinking about hiring.

Meriby Sweet is an International Program Manager at Ingres Corporation, a software company in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Role Model Profile

Tilmon Smith, Jr. Experienced Staff Consultant Andersen Consulting Washington, DC

As an experienced staff consultant, Tilmon Smith designs, programs, and tests various information systems according to client needs and specifications.

Smith graduated cum laude from Howard University with a BSEE degree. While attending Howard, he interned with Bell of Pennsylvania, AT&T, and IBM, and has been employed by Andersen Consulting since graduating in May 1991. Smith is currently in the Financial Services Group at Andersen, having worked on several projects involving the Resolution Trust Corporation and Freddie Mac, his ultimate goal being to become a partner in the firm by age 35.

Advice to students on how to succeed: "First, make sure that you choose a career because you enjoy it and not for superficial reasons such as money or prestige. Second, set your goals high and put forth your best effort to obtain them. As long as you try your best to succeed, you can achieve your goals. Third, try not to get discouraged if the outcome is not as you may have liked. What is most important is that you enjoy what you are doing and have tried your best."
COPYRIGHT 1993 IMDiversity, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Annual Jobs Issue; includes role model profile
Author:Sweet, Meriby
Publication:The Black Collegian
Date:Mar 1, 1993
Previous Article:When the game is over.
Next Article:Discovering the hidden job market.

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