If you’ve recently entered or are soon to be entering the working world, you probably know that it’s so important to build a network and start utilizing it. After all, research has shown that anywhere from 50% to 80% of jobs are filled through networking — a much higher success rate than through blindly sending out applications. But, how do you actually start networking if you’re a recent college grad with little to no professional connections yet?
GOBankingRates spoke with a range of experts to get their best tips for building up your network and tapping into this resource to land your next job.
1. Create a LinkedIn Profile
“Networking is essential,” said Ella Gupta, Greenlight ambassador and Gen Z financial expert. “Begin by creating a LinkedIn profile and connecting with your classmates or colleagues.”
2. Do Your Research
Next, see who you should be connecting with beyond the people you know personally.
“Gen Zers should research, identify and rank as many as 20 companies they would like to work for in their desired industry,” said Mark Beal, assistant professor of practice at the Rutgers University School of Communication and Information, and the author of “Decoding Gen Z” and “Engaging Gen Z.”
Once you’ve done that, “leverage contacts ranging from family members to professors and classmates to identify who in their network has a personal connection at one of their target companies,” Beal said. When you have a list of those individuals, it’s time to begin your outreach.
3. Reach Out Directly to People You Admire
Thanks to social media, it’s never been easier to connect with people across different industries and geographic locations.
“In my opinion, the most important thing is cold outreach,” said David Choi, wine proprietor at Magna Carta Cellars and Angel Falls Wines, who has amassed a huge following on TikTok as a wine expert. “With how interconnected today’s world is, a 20-something from a town of 3,000 people can get the attention of their dream jobs just by (…) leveraging social media to get in touch with people. The opportunities are endless. Back when I was growing up, we were limited to some extent in how fast we can grow our network. Now? You (can) build a network overnight with one viral video or a few clever Twitter DMs.”
When you reach out to someone, ask if they would be willing to chat with you, noting that you are willing to share any insights that could be helpful to them as well.
“The perspective of a Gen Z individual is one of the most valuable insights these days,” said Chris Josephs, co-founder at Iris. “Professionals in any industry are always looking to learn more about the next generation who are now entering the workforce. I would recommend (asking for a) 15- to 30-minute chat where you ask the professional your own questions while also giving the professional insights into what you know.”
4. Look For Other Ways To Make New Connections
In addition to reaching out to potential connections on LinkedIn, seek out events and groups that will enable you to meet more people in your desired field.
“Find organizations that already gather professionals in your field and volunteer with them,” said James Ganiere, an Emmy-nominated producer and director. “I’ve met the best professional (connections) while volunteering.” In addition, “find and attend events — virtual or in-person — to do with your industry.”
6. Build Meaningful Relationships
When it comes to building a network, focus on having a few quality relationships rather than on “connecting” with as many people as you can.
“The idea of networking initially really turned me off as a young person. It felt forced, fake and contrived,” said Amanda Frances, a self-made millionaire and author of “Rich as F*ck.” “It felt like a tit-for-tat, I-scratch-your-back-you-scratch-mine game. Instead, I focused on making true friends. I got to know people because I was interested in who they were. I formed really solid connections with human beings I actually liked and trusted. The partnerships, collaborations and referrals that originated from this place have been wildly impactful and helpful to my business. When I genuinely like someone and believe in their work, it’s easy to tell other people about them and what they do, and vice versa.”
Building these genuine connections will require dedication, so be sure to fit time to nurture these relationships into your schedule.
“As you plan your week, set aside dedicated time to reaching out, perhaps even with handwritten notes,” said Yenn Lei, head of engineering at Calendar. “People tend to notice when someone goes out of their way to engage in focused relationship-building.”
Also, be mindful to thank any connections who go out of their way to help you out.
“There is perhaps no better networking tool than developing a deep respect for other people’s time and attention,” said Stephen Dalby, founder of Gabb Wireless. “Thank anyone who takes the time to speak with you by phone, points you to a resource or responds to an email inquiry.”
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7. Continue To Cultivate Your Personal Brand
“For young professionals to succeed at building a professional network, it’s important to not only be an avid networker at events and on professional sites, but to also build an external brand — whether this is a podcast, blog or increased professional social presence,” said Peter Watkins, who leads the University Affiliation Program at CFA Institute in EMEA. “This can allow you to stand out among the crowd and further your connections.”
While building up your desired social presence, you should also remove anything that does not paint you in the best light.
“Today’s digital footprint often means the difference between resumes that get a serious second look and those that end up in the recycling bin,” said Misty Larkins, president of Relevance. “As you begin to expand your network, it might help to delete outdated and unhelpful content or anything that does not directly support your career goals. Like it or not, you are a brand, and online perceptions either contribute to or detract from that brand.”
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Gabrielle Olya contributed to the reporting for this article.