A Networking Approach for College Freshmen

by Mitch Bornstein, Ph.D

With the troubling headlines that 80% of 2009 college seniors are graduating without a job, parents of incoming 2009 college freshmen are increasingly anxious about the job market their children will encounter when they graduate.  They know that grads lacking direction or job search skills are at a huge disadvantage competing for entry-level jobs, which are down by 22% this year.
In recognition of this challenging situation, it’s not uncommon to see college freshmen trying to secure internships during the school year and in the summer. We recommend that students begin working on career planning by second semester freshman year, specifically by initiating some networking to begin researching potential careers and identifying potential internships.

When we discussed networking with Andy, a freshman at a New England liberal arts college, we heard what we invariably hear, “I don’t have a network.”  To overcome this hurdle, we developed the Comfort Zone concept to guide students in identifying a close circle of well-known contacts that will be a positive first networking experience.  The list includes family, extended family, family friends, neighbors, friend’s parents, and teachers or professors.

As he filled out his Comfort Zone grid, Andy discovered, much to his surprise, that he had a lot of people he could comfortably contact from all of the above categories.  When he prioritized the list and set a schedule for calling, he sheepishly confided that he didn’t know what to say.  We next developed a brief script, described Andy’s objective in calling (to learn about careers and possible internships), and a list of questions to ask.
These career questions included:

  • You know me well, what careers do you think would be a good fit for me?
  • What careers would you recommend given the economy?
  • What do you like and dislike about your career?
  • What internship experiences do you think would be good for me?
  • Who else would you suggest I talk to about careers and internships?

As an aside, parents always ask if it’s appropriate for them to reach out to their networks on their child’s behalf.   The answer is absolutely.  A caveat is how you do it. Too many parents take over completely in response to their own anxiety, especially when their children drag their feet. We recommend that you reach out to your contacts to ask if it’s okay if your child contacts them.  Then hand the baton over to your child.  It’s an important growth and learning opportunity for them to learn how to talk to adults about careers.

Mitch Bornstein, Ph.D., is the Founder and Senior Partner of Career Treking LLC, a firm that specializes in providing career planning services for college students and recent graduates. You can contact Mitch at mitch@careertreking.com or visit his website at www.careertreking.com.

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