Student Life

How to build, work, and navigate your networks

Many students share a common goal of securing a job right out of university—but this task can prove more challenging than many anticipate. There is a crucial underlying factor at play in deciding one’s career fate: Their networks. 

New graduates are often cautioned with the age-old saying “it’s who you know, not what you know,” that determines their job prospects. Though this sounds rather unfair, recent studies indicate that it may not be so far from the truth. A 2016 LinkedIn survey showed that 85 per cent of all jobs are filled via networking. Additionally, National Public Radio estimates that over 70 per cent of job openings are not advertised to the public, thereby limiting the applicant pool to internal hires and those with close connections. This reality makes it even more difficult for the poorly-connected to get their foot in the door at hiring organizations. 

Fortunately, universities offer the perfect setting to meet experienced professionals and practice networking before graduation. The McGill Tribune spoke with Darlene Hnatchuk, director of the Career Planning Service (CaPS) over email to learn more about how students can master the art of networking before graduation, and hopefully, land themselves a job with the help of sound social skills. 

The McGill Tribune (MT): Why is it important to begin networking as an undergraduate?

Darlene Hnatchuk (DH): For some people, networking can seem intimidating or […] only worthwhile if you are already a working professional or are seeking a job. As a student, there are several reasons to network, including to explore various career paths, meet people who are working in your fields of interest, and meet interesting new people who may introduce you to new ideas and opportunities. Know that in general, most people are willing to share some time to speak and help a student [who is looking for career advice].  

MT: How can McGill students begin to develop a network?

DH: Students can start by getting to know their peers, joining clubs and interest groups. [Students should] check out [the CaPS website] to learn about various on-campus opportunities. Other opportunities to network include speaking with your professors, [taking up] part-time jobs or other work [or] internship opportunities, and [engaging in] your personal [network, like family friends].  

Additionally, look to organized networking opportunities, such as your department or faculty’s meet-and-greet events, speed networking events, career fairs, [or] company information sessions [….] You can even cold-contact someone you admire [or would like to eventually work with].

MT: In what ways can students make a good impression on potential connections?

DH: It’s important to be genuinely interested in meeting new people, and in particular [to be] polite. First impressions do count. Make sure that you are respectful and appreciative of people’s time [….] If you ask for 10 minutes don’t keep asking questions past the 15-minute mark. Thank people for their time, and give them an update if they made efforts to introduce you to someone new. [Also] be prepared to ask specific questions that demonstrate your curiosity and interest in them and their roles.  Be prepared to speak about yourself, your interests and what you might like to do.  

MT: How can students turn connections into a potential employment opportunities?

DH: Unfortunately, it is not always a linear path from networking to a job. But by making time to get to know others, being interested and curious in others, [and being both] professional and respectful in your approach, you will consistently make a good impression and you will more [than] likely be remembered. Be open to new ideas and opportunities and follow up with people. Use the information you have gathered through your networking and apply that knowledge in your job search.  

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