How can I learn to network if I have no network?

This is a question which we hear from our clients, all the time. To formulate an intelligent answer, let’s start with the premise that everyone realizes that there is great value in networking. Its importance goes well beyond just helping you find your next job, at such time as you might find yourself looking for one. Networking can result in connections that may prove helpful in your current work role (or that of the other person), as well as providing you with a source of talent when you find yourself in the position of seeking out others to fill roles within your own business. I’ll leave those last two aspects for another article. For the purpose of this one, I will focus on the nuances of college and university students who may be looking to undertake their first foray into the world of networking.

Many students believe they have no real network to call upon when looking for a job. In fact, younger individuals, still involved in their education or just reaching its end, can more easily tap into a network of resources than those who may be later in their career journey!

The first and most obvious group of individuals within your network are those within your own family. Your parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins all want to see you succeed (more or less), and would likely be thrilled about the chance to help. All you need do is ask. These family members not only have their own personal knowledge of various occupations and assorted workplace environments, but each of them has their own network of contacts who should be willing to assist you with your job search, should your family member ask.

Think about this for a minute: How many individuals are your parents connected with on LinkedIn, Facebook or other social media sites? You might be surprised to learn just how extensive their networks truly are. And even for those not active on social media, their reach might be quite extensive due to their circle of friends, memberships in organizations, business contacts, etc. We could be talking about literally hundreds of individuals ready to come to your support!

OK, so now we have established that you could very well have an extensive network of individuals to call upon through your family members, but why stop there? Who else might be great networking sources for you? The next obvious group is your own circle of friends. To this you might respond: “But many of them are also busy looking for their first job; how are they going to help me?” Well, guess what – you are not all looking for the same job, and these individuals might have contacts useful to you from their past experiences. In addition, what about your friends’ parents and family members? The bulk of them are likely to be useful sources of contacts for you in your chosen field – all you need to do is to ask, and begin the conversation with your friends regarding the kinds of careers you are considering. Then you can ask them whether their parents or family members might have knowledge of the general field. If so, might they connect you to their parents and family? You are probably accustomed to approaching them on joining you to attend a sporting event or movie or other event, or asking their advice about which cellphone to buy. How is this any different? Let’s turn this situation around: if one of your friends asked you for help from your parents, would be willing to make the introduction? My guess is that you would say, “of course.”

So now our network has expanded to include our family and their contacts, our friends, their families and their contacts. The total is likely a large number of individuals, but let’s not stop there. What about your teachers, school administrators, coaches, school activity directors and others with whom you have come into contact during your school years? Even if you did not develop a close relationship with these individuals during your time in school, you might be surprised to find out just how willing they are to help. Don’t be afraid to approach them. People who pursue careers tied to education tend to have an innate sense of wanting to help others, and yet many of us are too shy to ask for their help. Think about all the students (and parents) they have connected with over their years associated with schooling. They have a veritable wealth of network contacts to draw upon to assist in your own career search.

What about others who know you? Do you frequent particular restaurants, shops, salons, etc. where you (or your family) have come to know the management or the owners? How about your doctors, financial advisors, or other business professionals? These are more individuals who might help when asked in appropriate setting.

And your networking efforts should not be limited to only those people with whom you have some level of direct contact. You should also include individuals you may have never met, but with whom you share a connection. These include fellow alumni of your high school and college. Also, members of your religious congregation and alumni of organizations you have belonged to. It is just natural that we tend to be more willing to help those with whom we share a connection. If you have a connection, you have a way to peak their interest. Think hard about your connections – you have them in more places than you might initially think!

In summary, all of us have a wide network of individuals who are ready to come to our aid if we simply learn to ask them in the right way. It is important to learn how to do it right, but you should never shy away from networking because you feel you have no network. You do and it is huge!

filed under: College to Career
Steve Vogel

Written by Steve Vogel

Steve Vogel graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Emory University and went on to earn the Accounting Award as the top performing student in his class at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, where he obtained his MBA degree. Steve started his business career with Boston Consulting Group, and later held positions in Strategy, Operations and Finance with American Standard, Masco, Ingersoll Rand and Dover Corporation. Within Dover, Steve served as CFO at Hydro Systems where he worked closely with Jeff Rowe and Fran Nunan.