When it comes to securing your dream internship, nothing is more important than networking. Everyone has heard it said that the job application process is more about “who you know” than “what you know.” In fact, estimates suggest that upwards of 80 percent of open jobs are filled through existing connections. So, what should you do if you don’t know anyone working in your desired career field? Intentional networking in college is a crucial part of your internship search, and it might be easier than you think it is.
Use Your Existing Network
FAMILY & FRIENDS
Popular theory suggests that all people are six or fewer social connections away from each other. Perhaps meeting that CEO isn’t impossible after all! Your family and friends are the base of your network, so start with them. If one of your parents works in your field of interest, you have an automatic in—take advantage of that opportunity.
Otherwise, you will need to look a bit further. What does your sister-in-law do for work? Will your parents’ neighbor let you shadow him for a day? Can your roommate’s cousin tell you more about her job application process? Your family and friends want to see you thrive. Asking them to reach out to their networks on your behalf is smart and strategic.
PROFESSORS & SCHOOL RESOURCES
Even if your family and friends do not have connections in your career pathway, you are surrounded by knowledgeable professionals on campus every day. Many of your instructors and professors worked in the field before moving into higher education. Seek their advice on networking for internships and see if they will reach out to their former colleagues. Keep in mind, a professor is much more likely to recommend you for an internship if you are engaged in class discussions and utilize office hours.
Your school also provides resources at the career center to aid in internship and job searches. Set up a meeting with a career coach to discuss networking opportunities. They will have a wealth of information, from a schedule of networking events and knowledge of successful alumni to their personal and professional network.
Grow Your Network
CAREER FAIRS & NETWORKING EVENTS
Between career fairs, networking events, and guest speaker presentations, employers are on college campuses all the time. You should take advantage of these opportunities early and often. If you want an internship the summer after your junior year, don’t wait until the semester before to start networking. Attend career fairs as a sophomore and establish relationships with the recruiters. Ask good questions if an employer gives a lecture to your class. Collect business cards at networking events and make it more than a one-time conversation.
If you don’t feel ready to attend a career fair as a freshman or sophomore, ask your career center about opportunities to volunteer at the event. Make a solid first impression for the employer as you help them unload their booth equipment from the car. Ask questions as you guide them through campus. Be a friendly face as you offer them water bottles during the fair. Sometimes, those interactions will be remembered more than a name on a resume.
Social media—particularly LinkedIn—is one of the best ways to reach people of interest when you are networking for internships. LinkedIn has many built-in assets to help you find new connections. You can filter your searches by industry, location, mutual connections, school, and more. For example, you can search “Software Engineer” and limit the results to only show people in the Jacksonville metro who went to school at University of North Florida.
If you found an interesting work-based learning opportunity through Earn Up’s regional internship platform, look that company up on LinkedIn. You can view which of their employees graduated from your college, work in your area of interest, or share similar skills.
Once you identify a few people who stand out, send them a custom invitation to connect. Remember, an invitation alone is not enough. Send a personalized message that expresses your interest in learning more about the industry and how your career goals align. Being a profile on someone’s social media feed is not great networking—your invitation needs to turn into something more. The ultimate goal is to ask your new connection for a conversation, which could turn into a helpful resource.
Engage Your Network
Whether with a family-friend, a recruiter from a career fair, or a connection made online, you must maintain relationships with people in your network. If you recently connected with a professional, ask them for a 30-minute phone call during their lunch break to discuss their role and learn about the industry. You can also ask them to refer you to other professionals in the field to continue your learning journey. If you already have an established connection with a professional, occasionally send articles or bits of insights to create regular conversations.
Then, follow up with them about internship opportunities at their company. They may be willing to introduce you to the hiring manager, serve as a reference, or boost your resume to the top of the stack. They also can be a great resource to help you learn about the company so that you enter your interviews prepared and informed.
Skills and education can make you stand out in the internship application process, but utilizing your network proves to be crucial. Be proactive in searching for helpful connections and nurturing those relationships. Who knows where networking may lead you!