Networking is an intentional, mutually beneficial process of building professional relationships. It is talking to people you know personally or know through a mutual contact, asking them for advice, information about a specific company, industry, or career field. As you get to know each other, trust and mutual respect is built, which can lead to referrals to other connections.

Since research shows that over 70 percent of new employment develops through networking, this should be an essential part of every student's career preparation process.

Here are four basic steps to guide you:

  1. Identify Strategic Contacts: Find people that are working in a job or for a company that interests you. Start in your comfort zone with friends, family, faculty, and school alumni. Utilize LinkedIn to identify and expand your pool.
  2. Prepare Your Communication: Be sure to research the contact's company and background, then develop thoughtful "informational interview" questions, practice talking about your own career goals, and polish your resume.
  3. Reach Out: Write a professional email or message introducing yourself and your desire to learn more about their professional accomplishments. Then ask for a brief meeting in a location that is convenient to them.
  4. Follow Up: Remember, networking is about building ongoing relationships, not just for your job-search season. Keep in touch, updating them about your career and staying informed about theirs.

For more in depth information on networking, informational interviews and improving your LinkedIn account, download our free guides.