A college degree represents all of the academic tools you’ve mastered in four years. However, even in the best programs, I think one core skill is overlooked; networking.
Networking, in its simplest form, seems like a basic skill: a business card hand-off with a dash of charm, but there’s so much more to it. Networking is about creating a connection with another person and nurturing the relationship long-term. Most programs don’t explicitly teach us how to conduct ourselves as professionals that employers are seeking. Students send CEOs an email with the subject line “Hey” and wonder why they don’t get a response.
Upwards of 85 percent of jobs are filled by networking alone, according to an article published by Business Insider. Building a professional network, rather it be face-to-face or online, is becoming almost more important than technical qualifications. Networking gets you in the door, and your skills keep you in the game.
What good is a degree without knowing how to get a job?
It can be so stressful for students to attend networking events. We get nervous, we don’t know who to approach and in some cases, we even forget our own names.
Where do we go to meet people in our network? What do we say to those people? How do you address people in senior roles? When should we send the follow-up email? Do we use last names? First names? How do we sound enthusiastic in an email without ending every sentence with an exclamation point?
Networking 101 would teach college students how to talk to other professionals, how to send emails, how to use LinkedIn, how to perfect your resume and cover letter, and how to craft an elevator pitch. This course would be taught to juniors or seniors while they are gearing up to enter the workforce. Taking this course would lessen the initial shock of real-world expectations and help to foster better relationships with other professionals.
Someone who is an expert at networking may be called a “people person.” However, those who are more introverted can be awesome networkers too! If it doesn’t come so naturally to you, try preparing a shortlist of go-to questions to start a conversation. This will help you avoid possible awkward silence. Plan your questions to gear the conversation in the direction that will make you most comfortable. Ask about things you’re already confident talking about or that will highlight your skills in a conversation with a recruiter.
Additionally, if you have the opportunity, take the extra time to research people who are attending the networking event. Professionals are always impressed when you know a lot about the company they work for or work they have done in the past.
My advice to other students who do not have an opportunity to practice your networking skills is to seek out a mentor. Mentorship has made such an immense impact on my life. Experienced professionals in the industry have been my most helpful mentors. Luckily, in public relations, there’s no shortage of professionals willing to help. If you don’t feel comfortable asking for mentorship from a professor or senior professional, your classmates can be a great resource, too. Have a friend read over an email before you send it or help you correct your resume.
To conclude, I think networking is the one skill that most college students graduate without mastering. Teaching students how to network will increase the likelihood students will get jobs, help to forge long-lasting relationships between entry-level and senior professionals and encourage career growth. For students who attend smaller universities or who don’t have as many chances to practice networking, it would be incredibly beneficial to offer Networking 101 as an elective for college students.