“It’s not what you know -- it’s who you know.”
This idea is hammered into college students as early as freshman year. Having grown up in a culture of mass networking, young men and women seem to take a shotgun approach to getting their newly graduated feet into the right doors. This approach is the impetus for today’s esteemed 500+ Club, the LinkedIn milestone that lets the professional community know you’re somebody (or that you know enough somebodies). There are even articles devoted to helping people reach the 500+ Club as quickly as possible.
But as Dunbar’s Number tells us, our brains can only manage around 150 relationships at a time, well short of the 500+ contacts students think they need on LinkedIn. In a market where 70 percent of all jobs are found through networking, how do college graduates build up a meaningful network that connects them to the people they need and want to know?
The secret is in the quality of your relationships -- not in the quantity of superficial connections you make. Rather than mindlessly adding connections on LinkedIn, you must combine modern day social media tactics with the lost art of traditional networking. Here are a few tips to help get you started.
Embrace your past
You’ve spent the first 20+ years of your life meeting people in every walk of life, building up a network far greater than 500 people.
The names in your email and phone contacts represent a big network of people with whom you’ve connected over the years. Analyze your network by looking to see what your contacts are doing now, and take a moment to check in with smart, interesting people with whom you’ve fallen out of touch.
Be more than your resume
Many LinkedIn connections are nothing more than an accepted request.
There’s zero additional engagement or understanding as to who that person is or how you’re connected. When making a connection, remind them who you are with some information about yourself, even if it’s just a quick thank you and personal note. Your contacts should know something about you beyond your LinkedIn profile.
Don’t forgo face-to-face interactions
In-person networking is a key component for any professional’s career growth. While sites like LinkedIn and Conspire are great ways to access, manage and stay connected with your network, it’s important to remember that these digital interactions are not nearly as memorable as face-to-face meetings.
Never discount 'unimportant' people
Although your colleague at The Princeton Review may not be a decision-maker, don’t assume he or she is unimportant.
Each relationship you build in school, during summer jobs and throughout your career should be nurtured and maintained. You never know if the woman in your French 101 study group will someday be in a position to hire you or be able to connect you to someone who is.
Maintain the relationship
Once you’ve garnered relationships with other professionals, try to maintain a steady cadence of communication without annoying them. If and when the time comes, you’d like the person to know you well enough to comfortably refer you for an interesting position.
In the social media age, you have access to many new tools to contact people, but the fundamental nature of relationships hasn’t changed. You still need to make genuine, meaningful connections to advance your career and broaden your professional reach.
When you’re just one of 500+ connections on LinkedIn, it’s nearly impossible to leave a lasting impression on someone. In order to find your dream job, you must engage in both social networking and traditional networking.
The key to landing the job is not just who you know, but how well you know them.