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Don't let the word "networking" discourage you. It simply starts with genuinely engaging with people — those you already know, and leading to others — to learn about their careers and to share your hopes and goals in a professional way. Your goal is to build relationships.

Personal contacts and networking are consistently the largest source for learning about the first jobs of new Virginia Tech graduates, after the undergraduate degree.

We ask each academic year's seniors; 18% - 45% of new grads got their jobs through networking contacts and referrals (this varies by year and by undergraduate college and major).

Technology is great and is an essential tool in recruiting, hiring, and the job search. It is critical to carefully follow instructions for applying for jobs online. Technology does not replace personal interaction.  Before you get hired, people need to get to know you. Networking is a way of getting to know people, and getting people to know you — and to view you favorably if you do it correctly. Note that real networking is relationship-building, not just making online connections with people who don't know you.

Networking is different from applying for jobs — but it can lead to one.

Networking begins with simply talking to people — everyone from your professors to your neighbors to your friend's sister to your customer at the place where you work. Everyone you talk to may potentially suggest another person who might help you, and your circle of contacts grows.

Recent graduates and students in class years ahead of you in your major, or a similar major, are excellent sources for information. They may share both successes and failures from which you can learn. Student organizations related to your major or career interest are a good source for developing these contacts.

Former employers and other contacts at a former place of work can be excellent networking contacts because they know you and your work ethic.

Remember that people's contacts aren't limited to only those who have the exact same jobs they do. Don't dismiss talking to someone because their field isn't the field you are pursuing. Remember that individuals have family, neighbors and friends, and may know someone to refer you to.

Networking is most effective when you maintain relationships with people and stay in periodic contact. This way when you seek advice, your networking contacts know you and know something about you.

Some people who network don't call it networking — they just call it talking to people and maintaining good relationships.

Keep an open mind. You never know what and who may connect you to a job lead until you get there.

  • Don't ask flat out for a job. Ask for help and advice.
  • Have good manners and good interpersonal skills.
    If you're contacting someone who doesn't know you, introduce yourself succinctly. Tell the person how, where or from whom you got her name and why you are contacting her. Think about your reaction to getting a call from a stranger and what you would want to know.
  • Be positive. Even if job searching is getting you down, don't let it show. No one wants to hire (or recommend) someone who has a gloomy attitude. On the other hand, enthusiasm and positive attitude are infectious.
  • Be articulate. Tell what you know about the career field you're pursuing, and ask intelligent questions to learn what you don't know.
  • Write professionally. There are so many opportunities to communicate via email; use guidelines for using email for professional purposes.
  • Be yourself — your best, aspiring-to-be-a-professional self. Good manners and appropriate conduct will help you build allies.
  • Thank everyone who helps you and keep people posted on your progress. Write thank-you letters to people who take time to talk with you. Leave a good impression — someone might remember you in a few weeks when she hears about a job (internship, co-op, whatever) that you'd like.
  • Be reciprocal. Return the courtesies extended to you. Share information with others in your network to help them as well.

Weak example (astericks are at some of the weak points!!):

Subj: *Hello

*Hello *George,

*My name is Jane Doe and I’m a junior marketing major at Virginia Tech looking for internships this summer. I saw your information on LinkedIn, and that you are an *alumni of Virginia Tech, and was wondering if you might be able to help me. I have an interview in *three days at a branch of your company and was hoping to speak with you either *tomorrow afternoon or Wednesday after 5PM. If you are not available during those times, *perhaps you could respond by email to these questions:

  1. What kinds of interview questions should I prepare for?
  2. What are the main differences between your company and the other top 3?
  3. What are the most important trends in the marketing industry?

Jane Doe

Why the email above is weak:

  • The subject line is meaningless to the recipient.
  • Opening with "hello" and the first name of the person (whom you don't yet know) is too casual. Start with "Dear Ms./Mr. (lastname). Starting out more formally makes a much better impression and is appropriate with someone whom you don't yet know.
  • An email does not need to be written like a telephone script; the sender's name closes the email. No need to state your name at the start.
  • Saying "you are an alumni," is like saying "you are a students." "Alumni" is the plural form. The singular forms are alumnus (masculine) and alumna (feminine). See Merriam-Webster guide to terms alumnus, alumna, etc.
  • By emailing only three days before her scheduled interview and offering limited options for speaking with the alumnus, Jane Doe is treating this person as though he has nothing else to do but speak with her on short notice.
  • While it can be helpful to offer specific times you are available, it is important to offer more lead time, and to ask to schedule a time at the convenience of the alumnus/alumna. You can also use the wording "mutually convenient time." You are asking for a favor, so you should work your schedule around his or hers.
  • She is asking the contact to help and do things for her before that person knows anything about her. You need to make a good impression on someone before asking him/her to do you a favor.
  • It is inappropriate to ask the alumnus to answer questions via email, especially in the first email initiating contact. What takes you a few words to ask could require a lengthy and involved response on the part of the alumnus. Don't ask someone else to do all the work for you when they don't even know you.
  • All of Jane's questions are good, but these are topics she can easily, and should, research on her own. Expecting someone else to write out answers is a bit like expecting that person to be her personal assistant. This makes her appear naive, at best, and could be offensive and annoying.

Well-done example:

Date: February xx, yyyy

Subj: Request for brief informational interview from Virginia Tech marketing student

Dear Mr. Smith,

I located your contact information through LinkedIn and was hoping that we might be able to connect with a phone conversation for 10-15 minutes at your convenience. I would love to learn more about your background and the marketing industry as you experience it in Northern Virginia.

Currently, I am a junior marketing major at Virginia Tech and am interested in exploring internship opportunities for this summer. I am specifically interested in value-based marketing strategies, advertising, and communications.

Thank you for your time. I sincerely hope to hear from you. (Note alternate ending below.)

Jane Doe
Virginia Tech class of 20YY
(include your phone and email address in your signature block)

(Alternate ending if Jane has a phone number for Mr. Smith:)
Thank you for your time. I will also call you in the next day or two to see if we might arrange a time to speak.
(Why: By indicating she will call, Jane is taking the initiative, instead of asking Mr. Smith to get in touch with her. By writing in advance of calling, she is giving him the opportunity to be prepared for her call.)

Why the email above is well-done:

  • The subject line is meaningful to the recipient.
  • She's not demanding time, and she's not telling the alumnus to do anything. She is expressing a hope that they can speak with one another.
  • She is indicating an interest in learning about Mr. Smith and his work. Expressing interest in others is a courtesy, and most people are willing and happy to talk about their work.
  • She provides enough information about herself for the recipient to know her basic interests; she keeps the information brief.
  • She is writing in February, planning ahead for summer, showing she is not scrambling at the last minute to seek a summer internship. (And it would be appropriate to do this earlier, such as in fall semester.)
  • If there is something particular about his background, that she learned through LinkedIn, that interests her, she could mention that. Just be careful not to sound like you just want to work for the person's employer, and that is the only reason you are writing.
  • If you are thinking of asking a friend who just got hired to pass along your resume, you might be interested in reading: Why a new employee won't submit your resume []
    Gives perspective on this and tips if you do want to ask that favor.