Published on February 12, 2021, at 2:25 p.m.
by Emma Tracey, Guest Contributor.
The thought of graduating and entering the workforce can sound paralyzing given the current state of our world. Pew Research found that the unemployment rate in the U.S. rose higher during the first three months of the COVID-19 pandemic than it did during the first two years of the Great Recession.
Unless you work in the mask-selling business, odds are that the industry you plan to enter upon graduation is not currently booming with employment opportunities. While circumstances will likely get better before the time of your graduation, it is still important to be preparing yourself now so that you can have a job lined up by the time you need one.
One way students can prepare themselves for the professional world is through networking — an important tool that can help you stand out amongst floods of job applicants. A survey found that 85% of LinkedIn users found jobs through networking.
Nikki Walker is the director of brand experience and community engagement at Domo Inc. Walker began her career working as a publicist in the beauty and entertainment industries and has worked for over 20 years in the public relations field. She shared the importance of networking and tips on how to make meaningful connections with others.
The importance of your network
According to Walker, a person’s network is an essential tool in any professional field or industry. “Your network is your net worth,” said Walker.
Walker learned to harness the power of connection early on in her career: “One of my girlfriends is the executive beauty editor for InStyle [Magazine]. When I met her, she was the assistant beauty editor, and I was a lowly, entry-level publicist. We had lunch together, did events together. Now whenever I need somebody to be in InStyle, I can call her and she will figure out where that goes and she will make that happen. I haven’t spoken to her in four years besides online. But that is the relationship we have.”
Walker’s story highlights the value of relationships and the importance of meaningful connections in the PR world.
Professional relationships are more than just knowing the right person — they require building up trust and shared experiences, just like any personal relationship. “Sharing contacts is not sharing relationships,” Walker noted. “If I give you somebody’s phone number, it’s up to you to create that relationship.”
Networking starts now
Walker recommends that you start building your professional network right now. Walker’s relationship with her friend from InStyle demonstrates how the connections you make early on in your career, even with those who have also only just begun their careers, can be extremely valuable down the road.
So, how do you know which assistants will eventually become the executives? Look for those who exude leadership qualities.
“Join organizations, whether it’s PRSSA or student government,” Walker said, “because those people are the leaders of your school community. And the people you want to network with need to be leaders. You always want to be networking up.”
Start building your network now by building relationships with your classmates, especially those in leadership positions. The leaders in your school community are upcoming leaders in the workforce. Making connections with them now will lead to important contacts in the future.
Even through a webcam, you can still find ways to make those meaningful connections. Message a classmate during a Zoom lecture asking if they want to form a study group. Participate in virtual club meetings. Even something as simple as turning on your webcam during a lecture helps classmates and professors recognize you and take you seriously (just make sure you take those extra couple minutes to tidy up your background — dirty laundry and an unmade bed do not convey professionalism!).
Finding a mentor
Finding an experienced mentor can be a great way to start building your network and gaining important insight into the PR field.
Start by fostering relationships with your professors. Ask them about their previous PR experience. If they have any experience in a particular PR sector that you are interested in, see if they can connect you with one of their former co-workers. Professors are often more than willing to help and have an extensive network that they can share with curious students.
It is ultimately your responsibility to foster and create these relationships. If you are building good relationships with your professors, they should know enough about you, your work and your skills to vouch for you should you need it.
Branding yourself on LinkedIn
In building your network, you have to brand yourself in a way that lets others know who you are and what you do. Walker explained how LinkedIn is an important tool in building your professional brand: “I advise all college students to forget about your Instagram. You need to make sure your LinkedIn profile is up to date, interesting and focused.” Recruiters are always searching LinkedIn for potential hires, so having a quality profile can help you get noticed.
Don’t know what to post about on LinkedIn? Walker advised that when it comes to this social media outlet, it’s best to narrow your focus. “I post about only three or four topics on LinkedIn and that’s it,” she said. “I want to attract certain people, and I want people to know what they’re going to get when they come to my profile. I post content that the people I want to attract would want to consume.”
Find which topics you are truly passionate about and post about them. With this, people can better understand your brand and whether or not you would be a good match for them.
Instead of waiting for others to reach out to you, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there in making those connections. Walker suggested going through your network and asking people you already know to introduce you to members of their network.
LinkedIn can also be used to foster the connections that you already have. Try interacting with your existing network more on LinkedIn. Comment on other people’s posts, ask them questions, share their posts. Show that you are interested in them by interacting with their content in meaningful ways.
Positioning yourself as a resource
It is not enough for people to know who you are, but for people to know you as a resource. The best way to do this? “Research, research, research!” Walker emphasized. With whatever client she represents, Walker prepares herself to be able to answer any question a reporter might have related to that client. “You have to become an expert on your brand — knowing your competitors, your benefits, and where you sit in the market,” she said. “If you can provide some knowledge to others, they will begin to see your value.”
While you might not be representing any brand at the moment, you can still apply Walker’s advice by learning as much as you can about the market that you want to enter. In doing this, you can have knowledge under your belt that makes you a valuable resource before you even begin working your first job.
Walker has positioned herself as a resource in the minds of others. Even though she has not touched beauty PR in eight years, Walker still gets calls from people asking if she can connect them with someone working in the beauty industry. When you are able to introduce people to one another, you better foster your existing relationships. “The more you become a connector, the more you become connected,” Walker explained.
You can become better connected by introducing your own contacts to each other, such as introducing a classmate to a skilled videographer who can assist them in a social media project. These small favors can help solidify the connections you already have and inspire others to connect you to their own network.
Don’t underestimate your value
By expanding your network and creating a strong professional brand, you have the power to create opportunities for yourself even during unprecedented times.
In a time when job opportunities might seem scarce, you might feel pressured into accepting the first offer that comes your way. But Walker explained just how important it is to believe in yourself and understand your value. “When you go out into the world, you have to understand that there’s a lot of competition out there but only one you,” she said.
Even while job hunting might be stressful, never lose sight of who you are and the value that you have. Know that when you allow yourself to become more connected, others can see this value and help point you toward the direction that you need to go. Eventually, you could become the one helping others to find their own way through the connections you’ve created.