Networking is something we do naturally almost every day of our lives. We meet friends through other friends and very quickly we have built a network of contacts. The principle is exactly the same when it comes to developing and establishing a network to find out about jobs.

Networking is powerful and important job hunting and vacancy research technique. The job hunting guide, "What Color is Your Parachute?" by Richard N. Bolles, quotes a study that showed over 30% of people using the technique found their job using it.

It can be particularly useful with how to find a graduate job at the earliest stages - where a manager is identifying the need for new graduate level staff and has not yet advertised positions. If you can find a graduate job at this stage, then you may be the first (and possibly only) applicant for the role. The job can often be fluid at this early stage - you may have the opportunity to shape it so that it suits you perfectly.

Many senior positions are filled using networking and there is nothing to say that it cannot be the same with entry level graduate roles.

Why networking for graduates works

Recruiters like networking. After internal promotion it is often seen as the most reliable and cost-effective strategy for hiring. The benefits to recruiters of hiring you through networking include:

  • You come personally recommended by someone the recruiter knows and trusts.
  • They can see you quickly and without waiting for intermediaries to act.
  • After the graduate interview they can make a decision without having to do the time consuming work of writing a job description and preparing and placing an advert.

For you the graduate jobseeker, the benefits of this strategy are:

  • You get access to jobs that never get advertised
  • The recruiter can interview you for the job ahead of the competition
  • You have a greater ability to shape the job on offer
  • You are increasing the likelihood of getting a job as the statistics are in your favour - you might have a 1:3 of getting the job before you even meet the recruiter, whereas using a traditional method, perhaps responding to an advert, you may face odds of 1:100 upwards.
  • It gives you the opportunity to talk to key people, to research the market and understand where the next opportunities might lie.

How to start networking to find your graduate job

Networking is about building relationships with people, asking their advice and sharing information with them where you can. It is about asking them who you should contact next and asking their permission to use their name in making contact. Read the graduate guide to LinkedIn to get your account set up so you can begin connecting with the right people.

Start with ex-colleagues, mentors and managers you have known, friends, careers staff at schools or universities, teachers or professors, parents and parents friends. Think about alumni networks you could tap into. Think about all the people you know who may know someone who has a job.

Also, think about people who know the industry you are interested in - while they are often busy, journalists and writers in industry magazines can often be helpful and can offer good advice.

Contact these people - let them know that you are looking for a job. Say that you understand that they might not have one on offer, but ask if they know of any or know anyone who might have one. If the person you are talking to recommends someone, ask their permission to use their name when you make contact ("John Smith from ABC Limited suggested I called you").

Now call these people and ask them the same thing. And then call the people they suggest. And then call the people they suggest....

If you are polite, you will find that most people are instinctively kind when someone needs help - it costs them nothing, and most know that in the future they may be in the same position. Industries can often be quite small - you may be in a position to help them when they need it.

5 steps to build your network

1. Getting started

  • List family, friends, colleagues and contacts past and present.
  • If they can't help, ask if they know someone who can.
  • Keep your list up to date and look for new contacts.

2. Using your network 

  • Set yourself clear objectives, e.g find out about a media career by talking to a relative in broadcasting.
  • Identify good networkers and see how they operate.
  • Ensure they get benefits from speaking to you (e.g. mutual support).

3. Making contact

  • Use informal opportunities and have a clear agenda.
  • Always keep an open door: "I see you're really busy. Can I contact you next week?"
  • Use an approach you find comfortable - letters, fax or e-mail if necessary.

4. What happens if they say no? 

  • Don't take it personally - it's always likely and no harm is done.
  • Understand why you failed - and address it.
  • Stick at it - really important people may take several attempts.

5. Keep working at your network

  • Take time to build trust, there are no quick-fix solutions.
  • Remember it's two-way - you're part of their network too.
  • Keep in touch as people's lives change (ring, write, e-mail).

The results

Networking can yield unexpected results. You could get vacation work, a job offer in your final academic year, or you may meet your future employer. By proacting your search and going out and meeting people, you are demonstrating a drive and commitment to start your graduate career - this is one approach you can take to 'stand out from the crowd'.

The Mentor: This is the person who has reached the level of success you aspire to have. You can learn from their success as well as their mistakes. Heed their wisdom and experience. This relationship offers a unique perspective because they have known you through several peaks and valleys in your life and watched you evolve.

The Coach: The coach is someone who comes in at different times in your life. They help with critical decisions and transitions and offer an objective perspective with no strings attached.

The Industry Insider: This is someone in your chosen field who has expert level information or access to it. This person will keep you informed of what's happening now and what the next big thing is. Invite them to be a sounding board for your next innovative idea.

The Trendsetter: This is someone outside of your chosen industry that always has the latest buzz. It can be on any topic that you find interesting. The goal in having this person in your network is to look for those connections that spark innovation via the unconventional. It will also help you keep your conversations interesting.

The Connector: This is a person who has access to people, resources and information. As soon as they come across something related to you, they are sending you an email or picking up the phone. Connectors are great at uncovering unique ways to make connections, finding resources and opportunities that most people would over look.

The Idealist: This is the person in your network you can dream with. No matter how "out there" your latest idea is, this is the person that will help you brainstorm ways to make it happen. Without judgment, they are focused on helping you flush out your dreams in high definition, even if you don't have a solid plan yet on how to make it happen.

The Realist: On the flip side you still need the person who will help you keep it real. This is the person who will give you the raised eyebrow when your expectations exceed your effort. These are not people who knock down your dreams rather they challenge you to actively make your dream happen.

The Visionary: Visionary people inspire you by their journey. They are similar to the Idealist, but the visionary can help you envision an actual plan to reach your goal. One personal encounter with this type of person can powerfully change the direction of your thinking and life.

The Partner: You need to have someone who is in a similar place and on a similar path to share with. In fact, partners do a lot of sharing. This is a person you can share the wins and woes with. Partners will also share resources, opportunities and information.

The Wanna-be: This is someone you can serve as mentor to. Someone you can help shape and guide based on your experiences. One of the best ways to tell that you understand something is to be able to explain it to someone else. And sometimes, one of the best motivators for pushing through obstacles and hardship is knowing that someone is watching.