Education Guide — 2011 Education Guide
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Networking Begins At School

DON’T WAIT ‘TIL YOU GRADUATE TO START MAKING CONNECTIONS

If you think networking – that invaluable exchange of information, opportunities and contacts with peers and mentors – needn’t start until after you graduate college, you’re already behind the curve. Networking while still at school is crucial to securing scholarships, snagging internships and entry-level jobs, and to ensuring that your professional life leaps, not staggers, off its educational blocks.

“So many students, especially those who commute, go to class and go home. They stick with their same friends, their same lives, and fail to expand their horizons and begin to grow by making connections,” said Isa Adney, Student Life Coordinator at Seminole State College in Sanford, Florida and a speaker and writer on college and career success.

Adney, a first-generation college student, graduated from Seminole in 2007; was awarded a BA in Communications from Stetson University in DeLand, Fla. In 2009; and is on course to earn her M.Ed in Training & Development from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign next year.

“For me networking began in the classroom of my first community college class,” she recalled. “It started with a peer who asked me to come to a club meeting … Through that club meeting I learned about the $110,000 Jack Kent Cooke Scholarship, for which I applied and won many months later. I also became president of that club.

“A few days later my professor wrote ‘see me’ on my paper and when I met him in his office he told me I should be in the honors program … From there I learned the value professors could have in my life and began meeting with them often.”

Adney ran with this momentum when she transferred to Stetson, and continued to reap networking’s often very tangible rewards.

“These relationships directly led to my participation in the dance team, being an Orientation Leader for transfer students, winning the $2,000 research grant, winning the Outstanding Senior in Communications Award, being chosen as the commencement speaker, and winning the $3,000 Etter McTeer Turner Award given by Stetson once a year to its top graduate.”

Student networking should be with peers, professors and professionals, according to Adney, who is writing a book on the subject. Exchanging information with peers, casually, is the key to “involvement opportunities” (leadership roles in clubs etc.) which can later grace a graduate’s resume and also help to build a mutually-supportive alumni network that can last a lifetime.

“[Students] should surround themselves with people they admire, friends who are high achievers and who support their goals and bring out the best in them,” Adney explained. “These relationships will pay huge dividends both in their present college development and in their future. Opportunities happen through people. People hire their friends.”

Beyond their obvious subject-based guidance, professors can provide academic advice regarding transfers and invaluable recommendation letters.

“Networking with professors can happen casually by using their office hours for those professors you have, or formally by approaching a professor via e-mail or in person, asking for a short meeting,” said Adney. “The key to this is students approaching professors they admire, expressing that admiration, and asking for advice on a particular topic.”

Take the advice these professors give you; communicate to them how this helped you; and soon you’ll have a built a genuine relationship and created an invaluable college ally.

Connecting with professionals in your desired future field while still at school requires more formalized approaches.

“The two that worked best for me were informational interviews and professional association events,” Adney recalled. “I started doing informational interviews with professionals at my college whom I admired. I then joined a professional association in my field and met some incredible professionals who gave me great advice. And then I started cold-emailing top professionals in the field I was interested in and was shocked at how many people were willing to meet with me.”

“Get involved with activities [at school] – it is not un-cool,” said Lisa Layne, who earned her B.A. from CSU Northridge in 1998, and her Masters in Communications & PR in from USC’s Annenberg School for Communications & Journalism in 2009 (at the top of her class), and now owns Lettuce Public Relations in Manhattan Beach, Calif.“Mixers are great, but also lecture series opportunities [and] assisting with events on campus to meet people.You never know, that one person might be your next boss.

“Mix it up: if you typically wouldn’t go to a mixer, try it; if you don’t see yourself making friends or networking in person, try it out on Foursquare [location-based social networking website].”

Yes, online networking can be valuable to your career – if used prudently.

“HR [human resources] does check LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.,” said Layne, 31. “Only post things to the public that the public can see – and your mom would approve of. Your bad news online will always find a way to come out. Keep your social networking to a minimum – and for professional use. Who knows, you could run for mayor and don’t need these things to catch up with you.”

“LinkedIn is my favorite and I am always telling college students to start their profile as early as possible,” added Adney. “LinkedIn opened my eyes to other professionals’ resumes and career paths. By observing profiles of professionals that students would one day aspire to be they can learn so much - what these professionals major in, what job they started out in, and what companies they’ve worked for.

“And while LinkedIn doesn’t encourage people to ask to connect with those you do not know, I have had great success doing this - but never do it in a spammy way. I reach out personally to people I admire asking to connect in order to learn from them. And then once we connect I ask to meet or chat with them on the phone for 15 minutes.”

Yet for Adney, online networking will always, at best, only facilitate and augment eye-to-eye human contact.

“No matter how technological our world gets, opportunities and advancement will always happen people-to-people … [but] networking is not swapping business cards with someone in hopes of them giving you a job. It is about valuing other people, asking their advice, and paying it forward.”

Just as networking shouldn’t start at graduation, nor should it stop there. It’s crucial to keep building upon your college and alumni network in order to land your first job, to climb the career ladder – and to stay at the top.

“[I] thought companies would be running after me right after I walked down the aisle in my graduation cap,” said Adney, 24. “I’ve learned that indeed many in Ivy League-type colleges are heavily recruited and have jobs right out of college. But for the masses I have not seen this to be the case - even for those who were great and involved students. My job search took some time.”

“It [was] during this difficult time of self-doubt that I learned how to do these informational interviews [with professionals].Everyone I met with was offering me internships, and the entry-level jobs that were open in their company were being offered to former interns. I wished I had started earlier.”

“Just as my mom always says: ‘It’s who you know in this world’,” Layne concluded. “On the other end of that mentality was my dad, who always says that ‘attitude is a choice’. Both are very real, very true.”

GET NETWORKING NOW!

Here are the basics of successful student networking, according to Isa Adney, Student Life Coordinator at Seminole State College and a speaker and writer on college and career success.

• Ask everyone you meet for advice.

• Meet someone new every day.

• Get involved in student life right away and be the president of a club.

• Find a few trusted professors to serve as mentors.

• Join a professional association as a student member in the industry you are interested in and go to their meetings.
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