Networking

A student speaks with a mentor.

Networking is the process of creating connections

Networking is a great way to gain information and advice about your chosen career field, learn about potential opportunities, inform people about your interests and create opportunities for yourself. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that 80% of jobs are now found through networking.  The best jobs often go to people who network and sometimes, jobs are created for those people.

 Basic networks are broken down into four categories:

  • Strategists: advice-givers, mentors, insiders to industry information
  • Targets: individuals at organizations where you would like to work
  • Allies: idea-generators and those who can facilitate connections and key information
  • Supporters: recommendations and references

It’s possible that individuals in your network may fall into multiple categories. Try to develop a blend of people who you can turn to for advice, connections, ideas and recommendations. Having problems thinking of where to start? Consider these five groups:

  • Friends and family
  • Fellow colleagues
  • Former classmates
  • Foundations/associations
  • VCU alumni

Each of these groups represents a potential source for networking. Talk to those you know and tell them about your goals. They may be able to introduce you to someone new who can help.

Networking tools 

Networking happens everywhere and takes many shapes and forms. How you network is largely a personal decision based on your level of comfort.

LinkedIn 

LinkedIn is a valuable tool for developing new professional connections and expanding your network. Understanding how to network properly will help you develop a strategy for making new connections and building your network.

Creating a good profile provides a foundation for getting the most out of LinkedIn. Additionally, LinkedIn groups are an excellent way to network and learn more about a specific industry. Nearly every industry has one, if not several, groups associated with it.  LinkedIn University offers fantastic tools to help you make the most of this amazing resource.

To learn more about networking, talk with a career adviser or attend an upcoming networking event.

Professional and industry organizations 

 Nearly every industry or job function has a related professional association. Professional associations are an extremely underutilized source of networking. If you aren’t a member of a professional organization, consider joining one. There are hundreds of them with chapters around the country. Attend meetings, comment on articles posted the organization’s website or take advantage of established networking programs.

Explore the networking tab of the resource library for a list of professional associations.

Mentors 

Good mentors can make a huge difference in your professional success. Mentors have the knowledge and experience to help you develop and advance your career and can provide advice and guidance when you need it most. Mentors are often a boss, a professor, or someone you know through a professional organization. However, the right mentor may be someone you have not yet met. Keep in mind that your mentors don’t need to be the most senior people you can find, they just need to have the ability and desire to help you succeed. Consider these factors when searching for a mentor:

What do you hope to achieve from the relationship?

Before you begin developing relationship, you first have to decide what you hope to gain from it. Do you want a deeper understanding of your field, a new job, or help developing specific skills you may lack? Qualifying your goals will make it easier for you to choose the right person.

Does this person possess the knowledge and skills you need? 

Your mentor doesn’t need to be distinguished, well-known, or at the top of their field. A good mentor is simply someone with more experience than you within your area of interest. Consider whether or not your potential mentor’s experience matches your goals.

Will this person have time to devote to you?

You don’t have to meet every week or for hours at a time. But a mentor with no time to devote to you will do little to help you reach your goals.

Will this person be open and honest with you?

The best mentors are individuals who will tell you the truth, whether it’s good or bad. You are in this relationship because you want to acquire new knowledge and skills. A good mentor will be honest with you because they ultimately have your best interests in mind.