By Holly Ratcliffe ∣ BA International Development ∣ ESIA ’15
Okay, maybe it’s not the greatest idea to totally forget about your degree – and I highly recommend you keep studying for those exams.
With that being said, throughout my four years at GW and the (almost) two years since graduation, I have found that networking is the single most important thing you can do for your career. Let me repeat, networking is the single most important thing you can do for your career.
Can networking be construed as selfishly advantageous? Sure it can. But fortunately or unfortunately, it is the way the game is played. Making those personal connections is crucial because you are no longer just an applicant on paper; you are a personality and a resource that stands out from the rest.
Let me preface this by saying I studied international affairs and, therefore, can only speak to pursuing a career in that field. However, I suspect that many of my peers, particularly those with bachelor’s degrees, are in the same boat. In this line of work, whether it is in the government or private sector, getting to know the professionals who are already in your desired field or who have experience working with them is the best way to break into the field.
We all know that this generation of recent or soon-to-be graduates face some of the toughest employment odds in recent history. This is largely due to the fact that there are more educated young people looking for work than there are jobs to employ them. Getting your undergraduate degree is no longer a sure-fire way to gain employment at the end of your four years in college. So how do you improve your odds of landing that dream (entry-level) position? You’ve got it: networking.
Making personal connections is crucial because you are no longer just an applicant on paper; you are a personality and a resource that stands out from the rest.
There are several ways you can network, all of which have proven helpful to me and my pursuit of all things YoPro*:
One of the main reasons I chose to attend GW for my undergraduate career was the endless internship prospects. Living in D.C. provides opportunities unlike any other school in the country and maybe the world. Take advantage of that! Be sure to form solid bonds and even friendships with your supervisors and bosses. Take chances during your tenure and show off your skills. When you leave your internship, be sure to keep in touch and let them know what you’ve been up to. When it comes time to look for employment, you will be able to reach out to your past colleagues and ask them for contacts in their field or ideas on where to apply. You can even use them for references!
2. Professors and GW resources
Although it may not always feel like it, your professors are actually rooting for you. If you have one or two professors with whom you have either connected or who teach a subject that particularly interests you, ask if they’d be willing to help you. Many professors have a long history of working in their field before joining the GW team, and therefore have contacts and connections that could prove useful to you. Ask for advice and direction on how to navigate your industry; and I promise you will walk away with a slew of new options, ideas, and support.
Another networking resource that we sometimes forget is the GW Center for Career Services. Imagine this: an entire team of amazingly talented people whose primary focus is to help YOU find a job. From assistance with fixing your resume; to sharpening your interview skills; to narrowing down your ideal organization; the Center’s career coaches can help with all aspects of the pre-employment process. This resource doesn’t stop once you graduate either. As a GW alumna or alumnus, you can use the Center at all stages of your initial career search, and I recommend you do! The Center helped me narrow my job search and focus my applications on organizations that were best aligned with my interests and skills.
3. Jobs for which you’ve interviewed
This is perhaps the most untapped source for networking, but in my case, it proved to be the most effective. After finding out that I did not receive a position at an organization that I was extremely interested in, I was not quite ready to close the door. I decided to add something extra to the traditional “I am disappointed but thank you for your time” email. I reached out to my interviewer, who also happened to be the vice president of the organization, to see if she would be willing to sit down with me to provide some feedback. I wasn’t necessarily looking for feedback on my interview, but rather her advice on career paths for women in my field. This can be intimidating, especially knowing that these professionals have a lot on their plates and rarely have time to eat lunch, let alone take twenty minutes to get coffee with you. However, in many cases, they know and understand the difficulties of looking for a job and are willing, and even honored, to impart their wisdom on the next generation of workers. In fact, you may very well find a lifelong mentor. In my case, I did this twice with the same organization, and on the third time, I was hired! Vigilance is key.
I recommend using all of these options as you never know from where you will receive your big break. Networking can be exhausting and at times also discouraging. But with perseverance and a little confidence, it can make all the difference.
*YoPro – Young Professional