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Looking for Internships? Let your network give you a hand

By Eric Hurlock

For many college students, the word "networking" conjures up images of cheesy guys in bad suits passing out business cards at the company cocktail party. But networking is really about pooling your resources, talking to people, and being creative.

You never know who can help you out in the future, and the more people you impress, the better your chances of becoming a full-time employee after graduation.

Often, the best jobs - and the best internships - never get publicized. According to the career management firm Drake Beam Morin, 60 percent to 80 percent of jobs are filled without ever being advertised. The only way to tap into these desirable positions is to talk to the people who know about them. That's where networking comes in. If you get in touch with everyone you know (and everyone they know), someone will have heard about a job that's suited to your skills and interests.

While some people may consider your networking efforts a nuisance, most will be flattered you chose to take advantage of their expertise. The truth is, most people love to play the expert. Professionals know that networking is the best way to find the great jobs. More often than not, the people you contact will be completely understanding and helpful.

Where do you start?
Here's a step-by-step list of what you should do to get the most out of your networking efforts:

  1. Identify your internship objectives. Networking is a great way to gain information, but if you don't know what you're looking for, neither will your contacts. Think about the skills you hope to gain and the industries and companies you would like to explore.
  2. Create your contact database. Compile a list of everyone you know - friends, your friends' parents, your parents' friends, your neighbors, other relatives, alumni. Leave no stone unturned in your quest for one more name - you never know where it may lead.
  3. Do your homework. Once you receive some names of people you are (as yet) unacquainted with, learn more about them. Use magazines, annual reports, and the Internet to learn all you can about their careers, companies, and industries. This information will help you relate to your contacts and come across as educated and interested - and most of all - worth their time.
  4. Make your move. Traditionally, this meant sending a letter of introduction via snail mail, but these days a formally written email is acceptable. In the communication, explain who you are, your connection with the contact, and your purpose. Specify that you are asking for an informational interview to learn about a specific industry, the internship opportunities available to you, and basic career advice. Make sure you tell your contact your major and why you chose to contact him or her. (Here's where you can use that information you learned about your contacts' careers and expertise.)
  5. Follow up. Give people a week or two to respond, then call them to reiterate your interest in speaking with them. Never expect contacts to call you. If you're contacting the right people, they're probably too busy to immediately accommodate you.
  6. Set the tone. During the interview, be clear and honest about your needs. Otherwise, you're wasting both your time and your contact's. You're interested in finding out as much as possible about the field and investigating internship opportunities. Don't hound your contact for an internship; rather, seek their advice and experience, and let them offer the help they're comfortable offering. Most important: always ask who else you should talk to.
  7. Send a thank-you note. This common courtesy is the initial step toward building a long-term relationship.
  8. Maintain connections. Don't alienate your contacts by calling them only when you're looking for a job. Once every month or two, drop each contact a note, or meet him or her for lunch at regular intervals.

Network as you go
By all means, don't stop networking - especially once the internship starts. You never know who can help you out in the future, and the more people you impress, the better your chances of becoming a full-time employee after graduation. During the internship, your networking will mainly consist of getting to know people throughout the company, asking them what they enjoy about their jobs and how they started their careers, and perhaps seeking their career advice. Show an interest in their jobs and skills, and chances are, they will show an interest in you. And of course, collect contact information for as many people as possible. They may provide valuable information for that first job search.

Networking takes time, so start early and be patient. If you put positive and earnest energy into finding a great opportunity, you won't be disappointed. That exciting internship will be yours.

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Leveraging Contacts Part II: The Art of the Follow-up
So you have put yourself out there by calling, emailing, or meeting your contacts with the strategy we outlined in Part I of this series. Some have gotten back to you, and others you haven't heard back from. Let's say 75 percent of the people you contacted have responded -- that's pretty good, right?

I Don't Know Any Professionals! How Do I Network?
You've heard that old adage, "It's not what you know, but who you know." That's a simple way of saying that many people succeed based solely on the quality of the names in their address books. But while there is some truth to the adage, it leaves out many realities of job-hunting, especially for people first entering the job market.

Networking to Find a Job
There are networking opportunities every day. It's done at parties, dinners, events, small gatherings, birthdays, volunteer activities, and ceremonies. It happens at the gym, the grocery store, and the garage. Talk to anyone and everyone including those new to an industry and old pros, those in school and those overseas. They all matter.

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