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Top 10 Nitty-Gritty Networking Tips for Graduates

By Amy Zimmer | April 7, 2014 7:01am
 Building a professional network is key to landing an internship, experts say.
Networking Tips for Landing an Internship
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MANHATTAN — Shatiek Gatlin is only 19 years old, but he knows how to network like a seasoned pro. 

After spending several years carefully building his contacts and following up with them, he has scored a much-coveted paid internship this summer at the Times Square office of Ernst & Young, one of the "Big Four" accounting firms.

"Connecting with employers is not something you do overnight," said Gatlin, on the phone from Babson College, a business school near Boston where he's a sophomore.  "It's not just dropping your resume off and walking away. Extending the conversation is very important."

Gatlin — who grew up in the working-class Queens neighborhood of Springfield Gardens and attended the High School of Economics and Finance in lower Manhattan — is the first member of his family to go to college. He learned how to start a professional conversation, write a proper thank-you note and ask for an informational interview through the Opportunity Network, a program designed to level the playing field for high-achieving, underserved high school and college students.

"They taught me from day one how you interact with individuals in the corporate setting and extend that relationship beyond the first meeting," he said.

Internship seekers need strong professional networks and need to know how to use them, said Opportunity Network's founder Jessica Pliska, noting 80 percent of new hires come from a "hidden job market" where positions are not advertised but instead are passed along through employees, who share them with friends and professional contacts.

Resumes will often be thrown in the garbage if "you don't know somebody," Pliska said.

Here are some tips on getting an internship:

1. Ditch your sexymamaXXX@aol.com email address.

The first thing Pliska's organization tells students is to get a businesslike email address with their full name or first initial and last name.

"In your professional life, every student gets a Gmail account," Pliska said. "You can't use sexymamaXXX@aol.com or iluvme@aol.com."

2. Map your network.

Even students who don't have parents with friends in high places or friends with parents in high places, may be closer than they realize to someone in an industry they're interested in. Pliska advises students to make a list or draw a map of their contacts, including, for example, neighbors, teachers and people from their church, temple or community center.

"You absolutely never know where your internship lead is going to come from," Pliska said. "That's why every bridge matters."

3. Expand your network.

Look for ways to build new contacts through student clubs and alumni associations. Go to job or internship fairs and introduce yourself, Pliska advises.

4. Understand how to use college coursework to your advantage.

"Making sure there's a kind of consistency between what they've done in school and what they're looking for is very important," said Eric Greenberg, a college-advising, test-preparation and tutoring expert, who founded the Greenberg Educational Group. He suggests that college graduates tap professors for connections and leads for internships.

Also, having taken certain courses — like science, engineering and math or communications and marketing, for example — can often give recent graduates a leg up when applying for certain internships, he added.

5. Play up your real-world experience.

Since recent grads might have thin resumes, remember to include past jobs like camp counselor, Greenberg said. "It's very valuable experience, and it still could be differentiating factor."

6. Tap your network for informational interviews.

Reach out to people who work in the field you're interested, let them know you'd like to learn about their industry, how they got started in their careers and ask for advice about getting your foot in the door, Pliska said.

7. Always follow up.

Be sure to send a handwritten note or email to thank contacts after speaking with them and keep in touch over time with short notes letting them know what you're up to, Pliska suggested.

8. Learn phone and email etiquette.

With some students not knowing how to leave a phone message, the Opportunity Network runs a two-hour workshop on phone etiquette. It also devotes eight hours of class time to email etiquette, so students learn that the shorthand they use in text messages is not appropriate for business emails, Pliska said.

9. Always be professional.

"If I get a resume with a typo, it's going into the trash," Pliska said. "If someone is late to an interview, they're done."

She advises students to try on their interview outfit the week before to make sure it still fits and to do a dry run of the commute days before the interview.

10. Be clear if you can afford to do a paid internship or not.

There's been a lot of backlash against unpaid or low-paying internships, with a host of lawsuits filed by interns.

There are more opportunities for unpaid work, but students need to be realistic about what they can afford. If they can't work for free, they need to be explicit about that, Pliska advises. If a company can't pay, there's still a graceful way to keep contacts there in your network, she said.