Tips for New Grads: How to “Network” When you’ve Never Held a Professional Job

Posted May 15, 2013 by

Networking2If you intend to graduate this spring (or you already have), then you’re probably in the midst of your first serious professional job search. And no matter how long you’ve been on the hunt, you’ve probably had no less than a dozen well-meaning experts offer the same basic advice about relying on your “network”. “Use your network!” These people will tell you, sometimes with excessive energy. “Your network will get you a job faster than even the best resume ever can!”

But a “professional network” usually refers to the web of contacts, coworkers, and business clients one accumulates only after several years immersed in a specific field or industry. The networking concept only really works when it happens organically (nobody likes or trusts fake friends), and it only happens organically to those who have been building strong, genuine relationships, block-by-block from the ground up, in real life situations, for years at a time.

So where does that leave new graduates who have never set foot in a professional workplace for longer than a summer job or 2-month internship? How can you rely on your professional network when your entire list of contacts contains only three names, all of whom are professors and all of whom you’ve already tapped for recommendation letters? (And two of whom may not have been thrilled with your marginal performance in class?) Here are a few networking tips that can help you move forward even if your professional web is looking a little thin.

1.    You aren’t alone in this situation, and remote contacts you wouldn’t necessarily consider close friends are well aware of this. Everybody knows that new graduates and young job seekers are obligated to be bold when it comes to reaching out, so most people won’t judge you or call your social skills into question when they receive your out-of-nowhere phone call. Just make sure that when you contact someone who knows you only in passing, you’re clear about who you are, where you met, and what you’d like to say. Don’t hem and haw. Just get to the point.

2.    Your list of contacts can (and should) start with two sources: your parents and your friends. These are connections you probably have in spades, so begin branching out from here. Do any of your friend’s parents or parent’s friends have experience in your chosen field? Find out by asking around, showing interest, and listening carefully to the answers you receive.

3.    Once you have a promising name on your list, reach out to this person by phone or email (preferably both) and ask for advice, not favors. Offer to buy the person lunch if you can, and if that isn’t practical, just ask for a specified period of the person’s time, ideally between ten and fifteen minutes, for a meeting in his or her own office or over the phone. If he or she agrees to talk with you, have your list of questions and topics carefully prepared before your appointment.

4.    If you reach out to a remote contact to ask for advice and guidance, keep that person in the loop throughout your entire job search process. Send them a handwritten thank you note if applicable, and keep them updated on your progress.

The fate of your job search may depend on your ability to build a “network” out of thin air, brief interactions, experiences drawn from your internships and part time jobs, and the way you’re able to channel your inner extrovert and reach out to those who may or may not remember you clearly. Help these people to see you in a strong and positive light, and you’ll be on your way to building a real network that can support you throughout your lifelong career.

LiveCareer (, home to America’s #1 Resume Builder, connects job seekers of all experience levels and career categories to all the tools, resources, and insider tips needed to win the job. You can connect with us on our website or social networks for even more tips and advice on all things career and resume-related.

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