Guest post from UNC-CH graduate Courtney Miller.
Every career counselor will tell you that networking is crucial to a job search, but it can be intimidating, especially for those of us who aren’t used to making conversation with perfect strangers. My approach to networking is to take it as a learning experience. Not all networking activities will lead to a job, but you can get great advice from someone who has been there.
Step One. Prepare an elevator speech.
One of the keys to job searching is letting people know you’re looking for a job. Having an elevator speech helps you do that; the speech tells someone who you are, what you’re looking for, and what your background is – all in the time it would take to ride an elevator. It doesn’t have to be an Oscar-winning monologue. It can be as simple as, “I graduated from UNC this past May and majored in Political Science. I did three internships in state congressional offices over the summers, where I improved campaign strategy and by researching voter demographics. I’m currently looking for a job on the campaign trail.” Make sure you come across as natural, enthusiastic and genuine.
The elevator speech should be tweaked depending on your audience. If you’re talking to someone you already know, then your elevator speech can be a lot less formal. For an interview, you’d also want to add what makes you stand out from other candidates and what you can contribute the company.
Step Two. Reach Your Existing Networks
Now that you just ran to the bathroom to prepare your elevator speech in front of the mirror, you’re ready to practice it. The best place to start is with people you already know. Give your parents, friends, and everyone else you know the elevator speech and ask them if they know anyone directly in your field. If they don’t, ask them to put feelers around for you with their co-workers and friends. Also, ask them to send around your resume. Think of it as a game of six degrees with Kevin Bacon. Someone you know knows someone that can help you; however, if you don’t let people know you’re looking for a job, then you’ll never meet that someone.
Step Three. Volunteer
Volunteer a few days a week at a place where you can use the skills you would want to use in a job. Many local United Ways or local governments have volunteer coordinators who are more than happy to help you find somewhere that you fit. For example, if you want to be a graphic designer, there are many non-profits or churches that could benefit from your services. Once you get there, take the initiative and use your expertise to make new suggestions or improvements. The experience will expand your network, give you references AND improve your resume. If you volunteer at a place where you would eventually like to work, you will get a chance to meet the hiring manager and the people who work there to determine a fit.
Again, make sure to let them know you’re looking for a job. You want to make these people think, “Wow, what will I do when he gets a real job and isn’t here to volunteer here anymore? I wish we could hire him full time!” You never know when volunteerism can lead to a full-time position if someone else leaves or if the money is available.
Also, check your community event calendar. Attending community events and meeting new people also can expand your network.
Step Four. Networking via Career Services.
UNC has a global network of alumni and a number of helpful career mentor volunteers. If you graduated from another university, check your career services department to find out if it has a similar feature. There is a general UNC Career Connection that is searchable by industry and location (http://careerweb.unc.edu/). Some professional schools, like the J-School and the B-School, have additional databases. Once you create a list of people based on organizations or locations where you would like to work, e-mail them and introduce yourself with your elevator speech.
Tell them why you thought they would be interesting picks. For example: you really liked the range of clients their companies serve, the areas they live in, or the industries they work in. Then ask if they have any advice about finding a job in said industry/area/organization. Try to schedule a phone conversation. Tell them you’re attaching your resume for their reference. After you speak with the person, don’t forget to follow up with a gracious thank you note. Use the conversations to learn what you can about working in the industry and job searching. Chatting about UNC basketball can’t hurt. If you really like the company the person works for, request an informational interview.
If you stick around on the radar screens of your new friends, they might think of you when something opens down the road. Regardless, you gained a friend and learned something at the same time.