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Networking is the process of deliberately establishing relationships to get career-related information or to alert potential employers that you are available for work. Networking is critically important to todays job seeker for two reasons: it will help you get the information you need, and it can help you find out about all of the available jobs.

Decide Who it Is You Want to Talk To

Networking cannot begin until you decide whom it is that you want to talk to and, in general, what type of information you hope to gain from your contacts. Once you know this, its time to begin developing a list of contacts. Five useful sources for locating contacts are described here.

College Alumni Network. Most colleges and universities have created a formal network of alumni and friends of the institution who are particularly interested in helping currently enrolled students and graduates of their alma mater gain employment-related information.

Because communications is such a flexible degree program, you'll find an abundance of communications graduates spanning the full spectrum of possible employment. Just the diversity alone, as evidenced by such an alumni list, should be encouraging and informative to the communications graduate. Among such a diversified group, there are likely to be scores you would enjoy talking with an perhaps could meet.

It is usually a simple process to make use of an alumni network. Visit your college's website and locate the alumni office and/or your career center. Either or both sites will have information about your school's alumni network. You'll be provided with information on shadowing experiences, geographic information, or those alumni offering job referrals. If you don't find what you're looking for, don't hesitate to phone or E-mail your career center and ask what they can do to help you connect with an alum.

Alumni networkers may provide some combination of the following services: day-long shadowing experiences, telephone interviews, in-person interviews, information on relocating to given geographic areas, internship information, suggestions on graduate school study, and job vacancy notices.

What a valuable experience! Perhaps you are interested in working in law but don't think your research capabilities are up to the requirements of the profession. Spending a day with an attorney alumnus, asking lots of questions about the role of research in his or her job, and observing firsthand how much and what kind of research is going on will be a far better decision criterion for you than any reading on the subject could possibly provide.

In addition to your own observations, the alumnus will have his or her own perspective on the importance of research to a law career and which branches emphasize research and which may not. The law professional will give you realistic and honest feedback on your job search.

Former Supervisors. If you believe you are on good terms with present or former job supervisors, they may be an excellent resource for providing information or directing you to appropriate resources that would have information related to your current interests and needs. Additionally, these supervisors probably belong to professional organizations that they might be willing to utilize to get information for you.

If, for example, you are interested in working with promotional campaigns for a service organization and you were currently working as an assistant in a local florist shop, talk with your supervisor or the owner. He or she may belong to the chamber of commerce, whose director would have information on local organizations that are in need of promotional help. You would be able to obtain the names and telephone numbers of these people, thus enabling you to begin the networking process.

Employers in Your Area. Although you may be interested in working in a geographic location different from the one where you currently reside, don't overlook the value of the knowledge and contacts those around you are able to provide. Use the local telephone directory and newspaper to identify the types of organizations you are thinking of working for or professionals who have the kinds of jobs you are interested in. Recently, a call made to a local hospital's financial administrator for information on working in health-care financial administration yielded more pertinent information on training seminars, regional professional organizations, and potential employment sites than a national organization was willing to provide.

Employers in Geographic Areas Where You Hope to Work, if you are thinking about relocating, identifying prospective employers or informational contacts in the new location will be critical to your success. Here are some tips for on-line searching. First, use a "metasearch" engine to get the most out of your search. Metasearch engines combine several engines into one powerful tool. We frequently use and for this purpose. Try using the city and state as your keywords in a search. New Haven, Connecticut will bring you to the city's website with links to the chamber of commerce, member businesses, and other valuable resources. By using you can locate newspapers in any area, and they, too, can provide valuable insight before you relocate. Of course, both dogpile and metasearch can lead you to yellow and white page directories in areas you are considering.

Professional Associations and Organizations. Professional associations and organizations can provide valuable information in several areas: career paths that you might not have considered, qualifications relating to those career choices, publications that list current job openings, and workshops or seminars that will enhance your professional knowledge and skills. They can also be excellent sources for background information on given industries: their health, current problems, and future challenges.

There are several excellent resources available to help you locate professional associations and organizations that would have information to meet your needs. Two especially useful publications are the Encyclopedia of Associations and National Trade and Professional Associations of the United States.

As you achieve the goals that motivated your networking activity-getting the information you need or the job you want-the time will come to inactivate all or parts of your network. As you do, be sure to tell your primary supporters about your change in status. Call or write to each one of them and give them as many details about your new status as you feel is necessary to maintain a positive relationship.
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