By Pallavi Pal

Game on! One of the easiest ways to get a job is by networking. It is especially useful in this economy, where employers are being more selective and the candidate pool can, at many times, be in the hundreds and near thousands. Many students think excelling in this is hard, however, like a game that takes a while to master, once you have mastered it networking becomes a piece of cake. That’s a sure fire way to learn to play the game right!

So what is networking? Networking is a fancy term for getting people to know who you are, building relationships and creating a so-called “network” people in your industry of choice. As a college student, you already have a network set up. Although you do not realize it, your parents, friends, classmates and teachers are automatically in this network. They know you, in some respect or the other, and they appreciate you and your skills. But how does one start networking on a professional level?

One of the most direct ways to network is through informational interviews. What is an informational interview? Informational interviews are meetings that you set up with individuals in a company, field or position where you have an interest and you get a chance to ask them questions and learn about the field. The great thing about setting up these interviews is that you are in control of the interview and you get a chance to put others in the so called “hot seat” to learn more about the industry and see if it is a good fit for you. Even though it may be daunting, setting up these sessions allows you to express an interest to someone in the industry and after meeting with them you are able to send your resume to them. More likely than not, they will have you in mind if a position opens up and a referral from an employee within the company will help you be offered an interview rather than if you had just sent in your resume and cover letter. For more tips on informational interviews and examples of questions you can ask please look at our Informational Interview Resource Sheet.

Now that you know how to network through informational interviews, how do you begin to even meet people with whom you can set up these informational interviews? Well, the easiest way is to simply reach out to others in a company that you want to work in or via LinkedIn. You can send them an email with a short description of you, your interests and career plans along with a request to meet with them for coffee or lunch just for a few minutes to learn more about the industry/position/company. Many times emails can be overlooked so a follow-up phone call may help.

Moreover, conferences can help as well. The recruiters you meet at conferences can give you feedback on what they are looking for in a candidate and what you can do to make yourself an ideal candidate. By getting their business card, you can follow up with them via email, send them a few questions and request to meet with them for a few minutes. Conferences can also be a time where you do on the spot interviews and certain companies may also offer you a job if they are interested. The Toppel Peers Blog has a great article on tips for attending conferences. Also, All Conferences has lists of industry related conferences.

Finally, when working at an internship or job, make use of this opportunity to network. Although you are working in one specific department or team, you can reach out to others in different departments in the company and set up coffee or lunch meetings with them. It is a chance to get to know more about the company, see if there are more fitting opportunities elsewhere in the company and also get a chance to build your network. Once you meet a few individuals a couple of times, you have developed a strong enough relationship to pass on your resume to them and see if they know of future career opportunities for you.

Although these are various ways to reach out to individuals in the industry of your choice and begin to meet with them, make sure to remember that networking is not a one-way street. The key to networking is building lasting relationships and the communication is a two way channel. The individuals you meet are not those that are only there to help you succeed but also you should help them in turn. As the famous saying goes “what goes around comes around,” make sure to offer your services when you can and others will be more willing and likely to help you when you need it.