Most professionals, regardless of industry will tell you that networking is the key to career success. The Business Dictionary defines networking as: developing a group of associates that one remains active with through regular communication. These connections focus on the question “How can I help?” rather than “What can I get?”

Networking is proven to be a key component in the job search process. In fact, according to the National Association of College Employers, a 2017 study found that 40 percent of college and university recruiters found their interns through networking contacts at career centers. Students who network during their undergraduate years leave school with professional contacts that may help them identify job opportunities to pursue following graduation. Networking relationships can be developed in many ways, including online, in person, or a combination of both.

Online outreach

Now that the world is living in a digital age, it is easier than ever to connect with others. A large number of professionals use LinkedIn to expand their network of contacts, as well as respond to novice professionals with advice and even internship or job opportunities.

“LinkedIn is the world’s largest professional networking site.  It allows students the opportunity to directly contact working professionals in any career field,” said Mark Fauble, a career advisor at Illinois State. “The single most effective way to find a job or internship is through networking. Students can also find Redbird alumni to help them get started in their career journey. In fact there are currently over 120,000 individuals on Linkedin who are from our university alone,” continued Fauble.

The most successful way to use LinkedIn is to have a detailed profile. LinkedIn reports that users with a completed profile are 40 times more likely to be seen by higher level companies and receive chances that other users do not. Students and alumni are encouraged to think broadly about their skill sets as well as experience when completing their profile, so they stand out when employers are sifting through applications. Users should include all internships, jobs, volunteer work and student organizations in their LinkedIn profile. To be even more effective, post on LinkedIn frequently to attract more professionals to the page, as it continuously pushes the profile information to the top of the feed. Additionally, websites like LinkedIn and Indeed allow job seekers to identify employment opportunities and provide them with a direct link to apply online, and have a resume submitted in a matter of minutes.

Personal connections

It’s important for students to take a step back from the online world they are so adapt to, and make person-to-person strides to develop their network. There are several ways to meet connections in-person. For example, professional events such as conventions, career fairs and conferences are a great way to meet contacts. Also, professors often invite guest speakers into the classroom who serve as another connection to make for the future. Another way to find in-person contacts is through friends and family. Ask them if they know contacts in your field of interest and ask them to connect you with them. Then, begin a professional relationship.

Professional relationship building can be done by making a phone call or sending a handwritten note to follow-up with those met in person. This reminds professionals who they are and how they have connected. When it comes time for a student to begin the job search, they can then re-connect with these professionals for possible help during the process.

Informational interviews

Informational interviews are a chance for students to speak with professionals in a field of their interest in order to learn more about a role or occupation. One way to do this is to visit the website of an organization related to one’s interest, and identify a professional who would be willing to connect with a new professional. Tell the individual about your interest in the industry and field, and ask if you can meet to learn more about what they do in their role, the organization, or specific areas of interest. Once an interview is scheduled, develop questions, dress professionally and maintain a professional presence throughout the interview. Be sure to follow-up within 24 hours after the informational interview with a thank-you message. It is also good to maintain regular contact throughout one’s  career. Learn more about the informational interview process using the Career Resource Guide on the Career Center website.

Essential events

Illinois State University hosts various events that allow students and alumni to interact directly with faculty, fellow students and employers from many companies. At these events, attendees can make connections with professionals to get to know them and learn about their professional journey, upcoming job opportunities, how to best apply for jobs and gather more information about organizations of interest. For example, when attending a career fair students can review a list of attending employers on the Careers by Simplicity app to identify which organizations they will want to meet.

Midwestern Securities Trading Company Accountant Scott Fisher attended the Career Center’s InstaCareer this fall where he offered advice to students on how to connect with a professional when meeting for the first time. According to Fisher, one way to develop connections is to develop a pitch about oneself to highlight skills and interests which serve as a good starting point for deeper conversations. In fact, the Career Center recommends developing a professional “commercial” in 30 seconds or less. After events, students should be proactive by following up with professionals they have met and even reconnect on LinkedIn.

Redbirds can also take advantage of their time at Illinois State University by building relationships and connections that could benefit them greatly in the future. Whether students enhance their network of professional contacts via the Internet, in-person or both, making connections is vital to a successful career. By taking advantage of the resources provided by the Career Center in accordance with online tools such as LinkedIn, students are more likely to hear about career opportunities while earning their degree as well as potentially secure a job following graduation.

The Career Center supports Illinois State University’s Educating Illinois strategic plan by assisting students with developing, evaluating, and/or implementing career, education and employment decisions.