They are out there. They are well placed in industry. They have never met you before. Yet they are ready and willing to help you find your first job.
Who are they? Alumni—probably the most underutilized contacts a college grad can have, yet also the most valuable. Why alumni? Because they meet all of the key criteria for becoming a top-notch network contact. They are often working in professional-level positions with employers you would have an interest in (especially if they graduated in the same degree program). They have in-depth knowledge about your academic background since they graduated from the same college. And they are willing to help you in your job search. A recent survey showed that more than 90 percent of active alums are willing to help new grads from their alma mater.
So the key is to find active alums. Where? The Alumni Office. Your Career Center might also have a listing of alumni who are willing to work with new grads, but don't limit yourself to that listing. Most Alumni Offices have the basic search capabilities to locate alums far above the abbreviated listing which may exist in the Career Center. Make sure you take the time to use this valuable resource.
First, search for alums who are working in your chosen field. Next, search for alums who are working at any specific companies you have targeted, regardless of position. Next, search for alums that are in your targeted geographical area. Finally, search for alums who graduated from your same major or degree program.
You might get some grumbling from the administrative person in the Alumni Office responsible for doing these searches (if it's not available online for undergrads), but push until you get all the information you need. If you are not getting any results, remind this person that you will be an alum in just a few months and that you would have a lot more interest in becoming a contributing alum if you were actually making some money. If the person still fails to get the point and remains unwilling to help, ask to speak with the Director of Alumni Affairs, who will almost always see to it that you get the information you need.
What to do with these names once you get them? Contact each and every one by phone and then follow up by email. Set up face-to-face meetings whenever possible. Bring these alums into your circle of contacts and make it personal! If there are local chapters of the Alumni Association in the city or area you are targeting, find out when their meetings are taking place and ask if you can attend. This is networking paradise! Help them to get to know you (the only "unknown" in the entire equation) so that they can help you more effectively. You will be amazed at the positive results.
During the course of your college career, you have undoubtedly been exposed to a variety of professionals who have come to campus for one reason or another. Most common are the professionals who guest lecture in classes. Or the professionals who give presentations to clubs. Or the professionals who give lectures before the student body.
Did you take good notes? Do you know their names, what company they are with, and where they are located? If so, now is the time to track them down! If not, trace back to the contact who arranged their campus visit and ask for contact information. Then call them to inform them of your job search. Let them know that you remembered them and the information they provided when they were on campus. Let them know that you are now ready to enter the field. Then ask them for their list of the top five companies you should contact. Be sure to include them as part of your personal network by sending them your resume and asking for their critique. By keeping in close contact with these industry movers and shakers, you will have an "in" that very few others have tapped into.
There are certain people who have jobs that are dependent upon networking for survival. These include stockbrokers, bankers, real estate agents, insurance agents, even barbers—all are dependent upon personal networks for their livelihood. If you have a personal relationship with someone in one of these or some other sales-oriented or personal-service professions, ask if they will tap into their personal network to assist you in your job search.
Real life example: an employer recently hired an individual from out of town who had originally contacted a real estate agent that the company works with on relocations. The real estate agent was aware of the company's hiring needs and referred the candidate to the person in charge of hiring, part of her network. The networking link between candidate and employer had come from a third party. Yet the real estate agent will also benefit, since the new employee is now her dedicated customer and part of her network of contacts for future business.
This is the value of networking. In practice, it can be extremely powerful. The business world is like a large web, with many interconnecting parts. Your job is to tap in to the initial connections then work through that web of connections.
Want to have some fun with networking? Contact the state senator, state representative, or U.S. representative for your chosen geographical area. Now here are people who are truly well connected! If they know that a potential voter is going to be in their area, they will usually assist by giving you several business leads to tap into. If you happen to be active in a Young Republicans or Young Democrats group, that is an additional plus in your favor (assuming you are in the right camp). If you actually did volunteer campaign work for a politician, now is the time to cash in your chips. Yet no matter what your political affiliation, you will always be a valuable political connection to the politician.
Politicians are not likely to be continuous contacts, but if you use the following line with them, it is almost guaranteed to generate strong, one-time results:
"As I was making calls to others and asking for referrals to hiring companies, it suddenly dawned on me—you, Mr./Ms. Politician, are probably the most knowledgeable person in our entire district on the subject of jobs. I would certainly appreciate any recommendations regarding employers that might have work in the _____ area."
Guaranteed results! What politician would admit they are not the most knowledgeable person in their district when it comes to jobs? In addition, you may end up with referrals at some of the highest levels within the company (often CEO/President/VP level), which always works well when making your initial contact (see The Law of Network Gravity mentioned earlier).
Also, be sure to mention the name of the politician who referred you when you make the contact. Many of these businesspeople owe "political favors" to the politicians and are more willing to help you when the politician's name is dropped.
Even if you do not get through to the actual politicians directly, you will likely find someone on their staff who can assist you. Many politicians have assumed the role of the ultimate consumer advocate and have staffs ready to assist you in every facet of life. Don't be intimidated by the fact that most politicians will be caught off guard by this approach—it is rather unique and you may be the very first person to make such a request of them. Remember, their life is totally devoted to serving their loyal constituents, right? Your tax dollars at work!