A Special Feature by Sam Gubitz, Career Ambassador, Center for Career Services
We often say, “It’s not about what you know, but who you know,” especially in regards to finding a job. But we often say that with a just hint of disgust because, after all, it easily invokes an image of the rich kid whose daddy got him a job because he wasn’t good enough to get one on his own.
And who really wants to be that guy? I know I don’t.
When I arrived in DC my freshman year, bright-eyed and ready to conquer the world, I was determined to make my own way in life. I wanted to ace every class and get the best internships by myself, and with my own abilities. To me, networking was a dirty word I didn’t even consider a possibility. I didn’t want help from anyone because I didn’t want to owe a favor or give my thanks to anyone. I wanted to stand on top of the world by myself, knowing that I had gotten there by the virtue of my own abilities.
While working in the Center during drop-in hours, I’ve met quite a few students who think just like how I used to. When I even mention the word “networking” to them, they reel back as if I had uttered heresy. That’s a commendable attitude, but ultimately, it’s more self-defeating than self-empowering.
I’d like to think that the most qualified person always gets the job at the end of the day. But, if we’re all honest with ourselves, no one is ever the most qualified candidate in any situation. Even that job you feel was made for you probably has hundreds of applicants who think the same and, on paper, look exactly like you. I don’t know about you, but those odds don’t look too favorable.
Networking can be a solution to this problem but too many people equate it to “cheating,” as if asking for help is somehow like taking a peek at your classmate’s test. We seem to have this idea in our head that finding a job is like a Hunger-Games-style blood sport and that by admitting you need help, you’re a loser.
Newsflash: you’re not a loser and networking isn’t cheating.
Networking is merely a group of like-minded individuals helping each other out because they’re interested in the same things. Is that so nasty?
Some students don’t have this aversion to networking and simply don’t know where to start; that’s fine. As with all things, there are many ways to get started.
First, you need to define your current network, which could be as simple as thinking about the people you’ve asked to be your references before; if they were willing to be a reference, it’s likely that they’re willing to do more. So, whether your network consists of former employers or professors, or even family friends, you should always keep in touch and let them know how you’re doing and what you’re trying to do; no one can help you if they don’t know what you need.
Now, I’m not saying go to your professor’s office hours and open with, “Do you know anyone who’s hiring?” There’s a bit more subtlety to it than that. Just sit down with these people and talk to them how you normally would. If they even remotely care about your life, they’ll ask where you’re working or what you’re trying to do. Then, just be honest with them about your goals and I’m willing to bet that, if they can help, they will help. This isn’t the Hunger Games so they’re not likely to throw you out because you need some help.
But sometimes your existing network either isn’t large enough or just not relevant to your career aspirations; that’s fine too. Growing your network is often the thing that most students have trouble with, myself included. It does seem rather artificial or two-faced, but it doesn’t have to be.
Growing your network can be as simple as stopping by the Center for Career Services—no, really, it’s that simple. Come into our drop-in hours with your resume, or cover letter, or any questions you might have. After that, the Career Coach or Career Ambassador you meet with will probably recommend that you schedule an appointment with the Career Coach that best fits your career interests, whether that be international affairs, statistics, or underwater basket-weaving—still holding out for GW offering it next year. Voila, you just added someone to your network whose job is literally built around helping people like you find the jobs they want. I promised simplicity, didn’t I?
Additionally, the Center sponsors dozens of events every month, many of which offer students the opportunity to meet with professionals working in their intended industry. Keep your eye on our calendar in GWork, which lets you RVSP for events in seconds.
Finally, there’s always LinkedIn, the social network that everyone has but doesn’t know how to use—admit it; you only made one because someone told you to. First, you need to make your profile look professional so that, when you’re connecting with professionals in your field, they don’t think you look like this:
And yes, that last photo is my current profile picture; see how silly that looks? But, aside from your profile picture, there are certain aspects of your profile that need to look professional before you start connecting with professionals in your industry. Please stop by the Center for some resources we have on LinkedIn and some general advice on how to use it as a way to grow your network.
See? Networking isn’t such a dirty word, is it? There’s no shame in asking for help when you need it, but there is shame in being too proud to ask for help when you need it.
A professor once told me that there are no clearly defined, straight “career paths” anymore; every path is forked in a thousand different directions. Even the paths that sound pretty straight forward like “pre-med” or “pre-law” are filled with dozens of different possibilities that lack a clear, step-by-step instruction manual to success. And while that may seem terrifying at first, with a tolerance for ambiguity and a little humility, it’s actually quite liberating. Nothing is off limits anymore; everything is yours for the taking, but only if you set aside your pride and ask for help.
Sam is a junior at GW majoring in political communication. He currently serves as a Career Ambassador at the GW Center for Career Services.