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Career Q&A | By Liz Reyer, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

Network now, before you graduate

Q I'm going to be graduating from college in about a year, and know the job market is tough. What would you suggest in terms of networking strategies and resume building to prepare me to find an entry-level job in my field?

A: Map out the connections you have with people, get to know your professors and get involved in professional organizations in your field.

The inner game

The key to finding opportunities is to build your connections and let people know about your interests. However, this can be daunting. If you're holding back, consider the reasons that you might be deterred. You may not know how to get started, or might be concerned about opening yourself to rejection. Relax about these possibilities. Most people are more than happy to help someone who's just starting out.

Consider your professional vision. As a history major, you have many possible directions, but not a clearly marked single path. Thus, it'll benefit you to think about the aspects of your academic career that most appeal to you. Do you particularly like working as part of a team? Writing? Teaching others? List these areas of interest, and also identify the aspects you don't enjoy. For instance, you may like creating work plans, but may have less interest in carrying them out, or vice versa. Draw on part-time jobs or volunteer activities for additional insights.

Then consider the types of organizations that may be possible employers, ranging from small businesses or nonprofits up to Fortune 500 companies. Again, consider which are most appealing to you and analyze the reasons. One caution: If you find something unappealing, ask yourself if it's just due to unfamiliarity. You won't want to rule out possibilities prematurely.

The outer game

Once you've reflected, it's time to reach out to others. Make a list of people you know through family or friends (including parents' friends and colleagues) who may be willing to talk with you or introduce you to others. Make your request easy to say "yes" to — it'll be awkward if you open by asking for a job, but more comfortable if you ask them to brainstorm about your future.

Professors are excellent resources but it's up to you to reach out to them. Discuss your ideas with them, ask them for their perspectives on your strengths, and inquire about possible internships that would build your skills and credentials. Also take advantage of the placement office before you graduate.

As you identify areas that interest you, attend meetings of professional organizations to learn more and meet more people. Most have student rates for memberships.

Now, a few pieces of networking advice. Look the part: You don't have to be formal, but never be sloppy. Be prepared with a business card with your contact information, and have an "elevator speech" that includes who you are and what your professional goals are.

The last word

Lay the groundwork by building connections with people and seeking internships and work experience before you graduate. It'll position you well for your post-grad job search.

Liz Reyer is a credentialed coach with more than 20 years of business experience.

Network now, before you graduate 04/13/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 13, 2011 5:30am]
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