by Tim Pate
As I’ve progressed through college, I’ve slowly caught on to just how important the connections I make here will be for my future. In high school, it was all about grades and extracurricular activities – a solid application and essay were enough to gain admittance to the desired university. Now approaching life in the real world, I know that my resume won’t carry me very far without people to vouch for my competency, no matter how beautifully crafted that resume is.
When I entered college, making those connections wasn’t the first thing on my mind. I was concerned with other things – surviving all of my first year classes, trying to make new friends at a university with more than 26,000 students, and enjoying my new-found freedom. I did well in classes and I joined a club here and there, but I viewed these ventures as means for self-betterment rather than actual resources that I could utilize later in life.
What really alerted me to the need for a support system was the means by which I landed my first internship. I had worked in college, but only at tedious, minimum-wage jobs that allowed me to buy groceries once in a while. I had thought about trying to find an internship, but I knew that the job market among college students was competitive, and I honestly didn’t know where to begin or how to highlight myself as the person for the job.
Then one day, a classmate with whom I had taken multiple classes and worked on a number of projects, told the class that his employer was looking to hire an intern. Intrigued, I contacted my classmate and he put me in touch with his bosses. The job was not posted in any public forum where I could have come by it accidentally; the only reason I was given the chance to apply was because I knew someone on the inside. My friend was able to testify to the work I had put forth in class, and soon enough I was working at my first internship.
Now, classmates are not the only people who can prove to be useful connections to the career or internship of your choice. Since I realized how important these relationships can be, I have consciously made an effort to establish deeper connections with people I meet through classes, organizations, and work – especially those people who have any association with the field I want to pursue upon graduation. When I go to a conference or a meeting for a club, I bring business cards and I collect as many as I can. More importantly, I follow up on those connections with a simple email. I find these people on social media networks and make sure that I stay connected. You’d be surprised how many people are excited and eager to help you follow your dreams. It doesn’t take much effort to let someone know that you were excited to meet them and that you hope to remain in touch.
As my base of connections continues to grow, I feel as though I am standing on much more solid ground as I begin my career search. When I see an opportunity, I find a contact that may be able to offer expertise or another connection closer to the field, and I follow that path where it leads me. Having this support system, be it formal or informal, makes the process of finding your niche much easier than doing it alone.