Association networking is a popular way to establish truly valuable network contacts among professionals, yet very few entry level candidates make use of this available resource. If there is an association for your chosen profession, find out if you can join as a student member in the local chapter in the city you are most interested in living in after graduation. The membership dues are often reduced for student members, and many associations strongly encourage student participation. Don't just join the student chapter on campus. Make sure you are a member of the local association chapter.
After you have joined, you will usually be given a membership directory. If not, call and ask for one. This membership directory can be worth its weight in gold to you since it is the "who's who" in your field for that local area. As a start, call the person in charge of membership and ask for recommendations of people within the association whom you can speak to about seeking entry level jobs in the local area. You will usually be given the name of a well-connected member who is willing to refer you to others or who may even be willing to help you personally. You now have an outstanding contact who can serve as a starting point for further contacts.
When you speak with this contact person, make it clear that you are a student member of the association and are seeking help in locating entry level employment. Most association members feel a professional obligation toward helping others get started in the field. You often will be given the names of companies and other individuals to contact. Or the person may offer to contact them on your behalf. Either way, you now have a "warm call" instead of a "cold call" into prime hiring companies in your target geographical area.
If you are nearby or plan a trip to the area, make it a point to attend one of the association's meetings. Most meet on a monthly or bimonthly basis. These meetings are a networking contact dream! Walking, talking, living, breathing network contacts. All in your field. All in one room. And all willing to help you in your job search. Remember to have plenty of Networking Business Cards in your pocket—you will need them. But use them only at or near the end of a conversation. If you just walk around handing them out, you will likely get the quick boot—figuratively, or possibly even literally. When you do give out your card, don't be shy about asking for one of theirs.
When you are at this type of gathering, carry a notepad so you can record the information from your many conversations. While it is acceptable to record specific information being supplied during a conversation (such as when a contact gives you a phone number to call), remember to follow this simple etiquette rule: if you want to write notes about the person with whom you are talking, do it later; if you want to write notes about another person (such as the name, title, and company of a recommended contact), you may do so during the conversation. It is still important to take notes on each person with whom you speak for later reference. Just make mental notes, then retreat to a corner or pop out to the restroom to "download" when you reach your point of information overload. An excellent place to record information is directly on the person's business card, if you are offered one—if not, remember to ask for one. If you forgot to get that all-important business card, be sure to take good notes in your notepad, including the person's title and company name. Trust nothing to memory.
If there is an association for your chosen profession, join it. If there are two, join them both. If there are three, join all three. Be a joiner.
If you are prone to forgetting a person's name, get in the habit of asking people to repeat their names to you and ask for a spelling if it is an uncommon or unusual name. Asking the person to repeat their name is a very common name memory technique which also serves as a compliment to the person, since you are telling them that you consider their name important enough to remember. It is an excellent way to make a positive first impression.
Follow up on all contacts made at such meetings with a phone call or e-mail. Again, it will broaden your network exponentially since nearly all the people you meet are connected to others who are able to help.
Don't forget your association membership directory. It can provide you with a series of warm calls in tracking down potential employers. Be sure to mention you are a student member of the association—it's an instant icebreaker!