For many students, May marks the end of their college careers and the beginning of their professional lives. That’s a scary thought — stepping into the workforce after spending a decade and a half in the classroom. But you’ll find that even after graduation, you still have a lot to learn. Your next big assignment is finding your first “real” job.
While networking with people in your chosen industry should begin well before graduation, now is the time to step it up!
At Elizabeth Christian Public Relations, we often receive inquiries from students and recent graduates asking for informational interviews, assistance with projects and internships, and we are always happy to help them when we can. (After all, today’s college graduate may be tomorrow’s job applicant.)
Before you prepare to reach out to (and build relationships with) “real-world” contacts, here are a few things you should keep in mind:
- Be professional. In the professional world, everything you say and do is a reflection of your professional worth. Remember to always be on time, speak professionally, dress professionally and write professionally. (In my opinion, there is no such thing as an informal email. Even one typo can taint my professional opinion of someone I just met.) Also, if necessary, get a new Gmail email account — with a professional username. Longhorn4Life@aol.com may have suited you in college, but it’s probably time for a change (first and last name with numbers, perhaps?). Finally, remember that social media channels are often a direct window into your life; if you act inappropriate online, it is highly unlikely employers would want you to represent them.
- Get involved. Build your list of contacts by getting involved with alumni associations and industry associations — and even attending job fairs.
- Become an intern. I cannot stress enough the importance of getting hands-on experience. In short, it allows you to learn the trade — and it allows people in your industry to notice your abilities. You never know where an internship might lead.
- Schedule informational interviews. One of the best ways to learn about a company, or even an industry, is to schedule informational interviews with industry professionals. When you make the ask, be sure to let them know you will not take up too much of their time, then stay true to your word. (As much as professionals want to help aspiring graduates, they also have work obligations.)
- Volunteer. Volunteering your time is an excellent way to build your contacts, as well as “beef up” your resume. If you’re a public relations major, for example, volunteer to assist with PR efforts for your favorite charity’s upcoming event. It will give you some real experience, as well as some projects for your professional portfolio. Of course, the value of an internship is twofold — your philanthropic contributions will also be rewarding on a personal level.
- Follow up. After someone goes the extra mile to help you, thank them for their time. (A hand-written note is still much appreciated.) Be sure to follow up with them again (from time to time) after that to maintain that connection — even if it’s just replying to a tweet about a recent client accomplishment.
Best of luck to all the 2014 graduates!
Director, Elizabeth Christian Public Relations