We all know that networking and alumni relations are essential to a successful post-collegiate career. However, only some individuals are naturally talented in this arena. Some people are a little bit shy and don't know how to build professional relationships, while others are inconsistent with their socialization and have difficulty maintaining such connections. Although every field is a little bit different, there are some universal things that can definitely kill the possibility of successful networking. Current college students and new graduates are encouraged to avoid these situations at all costs.
1. Failing to return calls and e-mails
Let’s say you meet a seasoned professional in the field you want to pursue during junior year. You don't really need their help for another year, so you'll get in touch with them right after graduation. That's totally fine, right? No. Students who meet somebody who might be able to help their career in their third year of college will need to build and maintain that relationship all the way through graduation. Depending on the situation, this could mean anything from sending an e-mail, a thank-you card for any advice given, or a holiday card if you know them personally; forwarding an interesting article that you read about the field; and so on. The point is to keep in touch. If a person feels they are only contacted when somebody wants something from them, they’re not likely to be helpful. If a student receives a call or e-mail from one of their contacts, they should return it within one business day. If they are busy with school, it's absolutely okay to send an e-mail that says, “Hi! I'm absolutely swamped with finals. Can I get back to you next week?” However, no contact is bad—really bad.
2. Not recognizing the importance of being prompt
It’s extremely important to be prompt when dealing with a potential job contact. If you have a meeting with them at 3:00 pm, plan to be there at 2:50 pm. If this person is giving you some of their valuable free time, they will not appreciate waiting around. And if they ask you to provide an updated résumé that they can pass on to a colleague or supervisor, make sure to get it to them ASAP. Actually, it's better just to have an updated résumé on hand at all times. There might be a job opening that closes on Friday at 5:00 pm, so if your résumé doesn’t get there until Monday, you may have missed out on a job lead. Being prompt is essential in every field.
3. Not meeting them in person
Although students and recent grads often prefer to meet via Skype or Hangouts or communicate via text, not all professionals feel the same. Yes, it’s convenient to be able to connect via the Internet, but if somebody is going to potentially recommend you for a job they might want to get to know you in person. This doesn't mean you’ll be giving up your social plans; it simply means you'll be taking an actual business meeting. Show up on time, dress appropriately (khakis, button down shirts, or basic business casual should be fine), and choose a place appropriate for such a meet-up. Coffee shops are a great place to hold a casual business meeting.
4. Expecting to get a job after your first meeting
Very rarely will a new graduate be offered a job after one meeting. Networking takes time and a lot of effort; thus, students who expect to land a job right away will probably become frustrated. It's important to understand that connections will provide introductions, pass on résumés, maybe even make a phone call, but they are not members of the human resources department, and they often cannot offer a position directly. A business meeting held this year may result in a promotion five years from now or may result in getting an interview for a position that's highly competitive.
5. Forgetting to network with professors
Students generally attempt to network with successful professionals within their future field but forget to network with professors. A science professor, for example, probably knows a lot of people working within their field. As a result, they can be excellent networking connections. But they will want to see that you are a driven student, so it’s important to show up to class or an office hours appointment on time, be active and involved in classroom discussions, and do your best on all your assignments. Professors won’t expect students to be perfect, but they will expect a genuine effort to succeed, which may just lead to a glowing recommendation or hot job tip down the road.