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Want to network? Ask for advice

Jenna Johnson

Trying to line up a fall internship? Still trying to find a real job? Today's guest blogger is John Charles from the American University Career Center.

People in my position give advice for a living. And one piece of advice we career advisers give daily is that students should network in order to find an internship or job. Not surprisingly, students want to know what that really means: Where do I start? I don't know anyone! Will people want to help me?

I've spent the last year recommending that students start with LinkedIn as a way of trying their hand at this networking thing. I direct students to LinkedIn because it is a structured way of organizing one's professional contacts, and it is easy to measure progress using its features. It is also a good way for introverted types to reach out to new people.

The key to making a successful networking request is to tell someone you want their advice, says my American University Career Center colleague Rob SanGeorge. Do not ask someone to help you find a job or internship. Doing that makes people uncomfortable -- no one likes to be put upon in that way. Asking someone for advice is flattering -- thereby making it more likely you will gain a willing advocate. Now, most people will figure out that you are looking for a job, but they'll appreciate your polite approach and be receptive to you.

Still, it is a little scary to contact people. Here's the trick -- use LinkedIn's Get Introduced feature to make new connections. This requires that you have a connection in common with the target person. That being the case, the target will usually react this way when contacted by you: "Oh, this guy also knows my friend Lisa. Sure, I'll connect with him."

Another important resource, and one that is too often overlooked, are classmates who have recently graduated. The people with the best knowledge of opportunities are often those who have most recently conducted a job search. They are typically still in their first jobs out of school and are very clued in to the job market.

These people might not be close friends -- in fact, you probably don't know them well, because if you did you would have already pumped them for information. Remember that these folks might not be in LinkedIn, so you'll need to identify them by other means. Which leads me to my final point: LinkedIn, as powerful as it is, represents only one part of your professional network. You must use my favorite 19th-century invention -- the telephone -- to do much of your reaching out.

About John Charles
John Charles joined the American University Career Center in June 2006. He is a career adviser and the School of International Service Team Lead. John advises first-year masters students and students pursuing international internships. As a graduate student at the University of Hawaii, John interned at the Pacific and Asian Affairs Council in Honolulu.

By Jenna Johnson  |  July 26, 2010; 8:16 AM ET
Categories:  D.C. Interns  | Tags: Job Search  
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Next: Welcome to Freshman Orientation 2010

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