By Kathryn Vasel, CNN Business
“It doesn’t matter if the market really isn’t great or flaming hot, people still need to network because that is how you get into the job you choose,” said Beth Hendler-Grunt, president of Next Great Step. “In general, most kids come out of college not understanding what it actually means to network.”
But networking can be intimidating to even the most seasoned professionals.
“Networking is not a dirty word,” said Megan Walls, founder of Walls Career Coaching. “It’s really important for the job search.”
Here’s what new grads can do to create a professional network:
Get your grounding
Before reaching out to people, take the time to figure out what kind of role, company and industry you are looking to get into, and take stock of your applicable experience and skill sets.
This will help you fine tune who to reach out to and what to reference during conversations.
Setting mini goals when it comes to establishing your network can also help make the process less intimidating.
Hendler-Grunt offered the “10 and 10 rule” to help get started. “Pick 10 companies that are of interest to you and 10 people who are doing the job you want to learn more about.”
Who to reach out to
Your network is likely bigger than you think, noted Walls.
Reach out to family, friends, professors, former managers and co-workers to ask them if they know of any opportunities or people in their networks in the roles and industries you are interested in.
Alumni can also be a good addition to your network. Many schools have LinkedIn pages that allow you to search alumni by title, keyword or company.
You can also search for employees by title, keyword or school on a company’s LinkedIn page to find someone in a role that you’re interested in pursuing. Once you identify a person you think would be beneficial to chat with, see if you have any connections in common who might be able to facilitate an introduction.
If you don’t have any connections, don’t be afraid to reach out, and don’t feel like you have to go to the top of the corporate ladder.
“You are much better off trying to connect with people who are in the workforce for less than five years,” said Lesley Mitler, co-founder of Early Stage Careers. “Those people are actually closer to the entry-level or internship position to give you more information about what those jobs actually are … and also can serve as referral resources for you.”
How to ask for an informational meeting
Sending an email or LinkedIn message tends to be the easiest way to reach out to people to set up informational interviews.
Many companies have standard email address formats that can be found online. Connecting on social media can also be an option, but Hendler-Grunt advised to keep the note professional.
If you have any connection to a person, bring it up in your initial outreach, whether it’s the name of a person you both know, you attended the same university or you’re a member of the same professional association or volunteer organization.
When reaching out without a connection, Mitler suggested saying something like: “I am studying marketing and communications, and I am graduating this spring and I am trying to learn more about what an assistant account executive does in advertising and what kind of track there is. I would love to speak with you more about your role at XYZ company.”
“Let them know you have a plan….and are respectful of their time,” she said.
Showing that you did your research also helps.
“People love to know you’ve paid attention to something that they’ve done, written or said,” said Hendler-Grunt. She suggested saying something like: “I noticed you are in this role, I am really impressed you started out here. Like you, I am trying to break into this market and I’d love to learn more about what you’ve done and would you be so kind to share some advice with me?”
What to say during the conversation
When someone agrees to speak with you, make the most of that time.
That means making an impression, asking thoughtful questions and learning about the industry, company or position and advancing your job search.
The questions should focus on the person’s career and company, not information that you can easily find out on your own. Hendler-Grunt suggested questions like: “How do you measure success? Or what qualities in a candidate do you look for when hiring?”
The conversation usually doesn’t include asking for a job, but you should be specific with the help you are looking for. That can be asking for an introduction to someone in the hiring department, connecting you with someone else in the industry or keeping an eye out for potential opportunities.
Being specific about your strengths and what you are looking for helps the person know how to best offer assistance.
For instance, if the person asks about your career aspirations, don’t tell them that you’re open to anything. “That’s not useful,” explained Hendler-Grunt, since it doesn’t help the person figure out any potential job opportunities, references or advice.
“If you said: ‘I have great skills in communication and problem solving and research and I can solve this kind of problem with this experience… and I want to get into this kind of role,’ now the person knows how to refer you,” Hendler-Grunt said.
Keep in touch
Cultivating relationships is a big part of networking. After the meeting, be sure to send a thank you note and also follow them on LinkedIn.
“You can like or comment on things they post — that’s a soft way to keep in touch that shows you are interested in them,” said Mitler.
And every once in awhile, send a quick note with an update about your job search or a podcast or article that you think they might interested in.
“You can’t be annoying, but from time-to-time reach out” said Mitler. “Try to find reasons to stay connected to them.”
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