Just a few weeks ago everyone was talking about the plight of college students returning or not returning to campus and navigating unique learning and social experiences due to the pandemic. By mid-October, it seems college students have adjusted to a new normal. With many schools concluding all in-person learning just before Thanksgiving and moving remaining coursework and final exams totally online, plus delaying the start of spring semester, students may experience a longer than usual winter break lasting four to eight weeks.
How can students interested in landing an internship or job this summer make the most of their long winter break? Networking. Networking. Networking.
More than 75 percent of jobs are found through networking. More often than not, people land internships and jobs because they hear about the opportunity from someone they know.
It also means most candidates will not find internships or jobs if they limit their search to online sites such as Indeed, LinkedIn and Handshake, or even on-campus (or this year, virtual) recruitment programs. Therefore, college students who prioritize networking and making professional connections NOW will find it easier to land an internship or job LATER.
There are plenty of networking actions students can take during their long winter break to build a relevant professional network. Some of these actions include:
Play Jewish Geography
Jewish geography in this context means sitting down with mom, dad, aunts, uncles, your friends’ parents, etc., and asking them to identify their friends and colleagues who work in the industries or roles you want to learn more about. Make a spreadsheet and list each person mentioned, their company, job title, contact info and who can connect you to them. Then ask for an introduction to set up an informational interview.
Set up Informational Interviews
Informational interviews are the best way for college students to explore different careers, roles and companies while building a relevant professional network. And as luck would have it, one of the benefits of the pandemic is hard-to-reach professionals have more free time. These days, it’s also easy for people to “meet” virtually, which takes less time out of their busy day. Plus, most people are looking for ways to feel good during this difficult time, and mentoring a student for 20 to 30 minutes could just be the “feel good” someone needs right now.
When you set up an informational interview, remember your goal is career exploration, not asking for a job. Another objective is to build rapport with each person you interview. You can accomplish this by coming across as interesting and interested during your conversations, which simply requires researching each person and their company and making a list of thoughtful questions to pose. Be sure to take detailed notes during your conversation.
Most importantly, stay in touch with the people you interview by finding reasons to reconnect between now and March/April. (Examples: send an article that may interest them, or congratulate them when you read about their promotion on LinkedIn.) If you have appropriately built the foundation for a good relationship over a few months, then in the spring you should feel comfortable asking your network to help you find an internship or job.
Get a Mentor
A mentor can provide considerable value to a college student, including advising about different career paths and providing feedback on interviewing skills and resumes. Again, given the pandemic, many professionals have a little extra time to spare and are looking for a way to feel good and give back. Most university career centers or alumni relations departments will offer mentoring programs, whereby they will match students to an alumnae/alumna working in the student’s industry of interest. Be sure to contact these university departments before winter break to learn more about mentor programs.
Join Facebook and LinkedIn Groups
Another great networking tool that’s easy to leverage during a pandemic is joining Facebook and LinkedIn groups to connect with professionals. Look for Facebook and LinkedIn groups for alumni (usually you don’t need to be an alumni to join) and special interest groups related to your major or future career.
Most people in these types of social media groups will want to help current students because they remember what it was like to be young and inexperienced. Once admitted to a group, pay attention to what people are talking about and if someone posts something interesting then be sure to comment appropriately and engage with the community. Check the group’s About section and read the rules. If allowed, post something like this, “Hi, I’m a junior at UGA majoring in journalism. I’m interested in connecting with alumni in digital marketing roles. I would welcome the opportunity to learn more about your career.” This is a great way to generate leads for informational interviews.
With this year’s winter break lasting four to six weeks, set a goal of connecting with 25 or more professionals. Use the pandemic’s gift of time to grow your professional network NOW in order to make it easier to land an internship or job LATER.
Stacey Kaye is a job search skills coach and the founder of CampusToCareer.net. During weekly one-on-one coaching sessions, she teaches college students and recent grads how to conduct a successful search for an internship or job.