Did you know that an estimated 70-80% of positions are not advertised and candidates are typically found through internal channels? Actively networking with the people around you can mean the difference between getting your career off to a good start or potentially spending several years filling out applications and answering to your local job centre.

Why stay connected?

Anyone can build a valuable network and improve their chances of finding work after university.

While networking may not guarantee you a job, having the right connections can go a long way and reveal hidden opportunities. There is a truth to the “six degrees of separation”, the idea that you are only six people away from knowing every human on the planet. Connecting with the right people could bring you closer to and help you make a stronger impression on potential employers.

In the majority of European countries, the percentage of the labour market that have a higher education is growing in size every year. In Denmark, for example, the number of applicants for university education grows at around 6% per year, while 86% of university graduates in Denmark are in employment (2% higher than the OECD average). While Denmark is certainly a European leader when it comes to education (7.9% of its GDP is invested in education), a similar trend can be seen among its European neighbours.

This essentially means is that the job market in Europe is becoming increasingly competitive. Graduates must use all the tools that are available to them to improve their chances of being employed once they graduate. Maintaining a professional network may seem like common sense to some, but many students don’t begin building their network until they leave the lecture halls and enter the corporate world.

You may already actively network with the people you meet or you might not have thought about networking until now. Either way, there is always room for improvement and there are various ways to quickly build a valuable network or get the most out of an existing one.

How to stay connected

Many people find that having a part-time student job, interning at relevant companies, and volunteering while they study are great ways to get their foot in the door and improve their CV. While this is definitely effective, not everyone may have the time nor the resources to work or volunteer while they study.

Whether you are aiming for a career in engineering, business, law, or medicine, connecting with people in your respective field will improve the chances of getting the post-graduation job that you dream of. You should also get in touch and maintain contact with people in related industries to ensure a smooth transition if you decide to change career paths.

Networking takes time but there are five essential habits that you can adopt to gather connections; some of the approaches are digital while others require spending time talking to people in a more social context:

  • LinkedIn is the go-to social network for professionals from around the world. 88% of recruiters value LinkedIn referrals, and the majority of recruiters will refer to at least one social media profile when assessing applicants. Why not control what they see and present yourself as a highly valuable candidate? You can showcase some of your previous projects; get references from your peers, lecturers and employers; write an inspiring biography, and illustrate your skills. This will ensure that recruiters will take your profile into serious consideration when assessing applicants. Recruiters will be able to see your connections and, if you are connected with a current employee, they may request a reference from them.
  • Facebook, while it is more known for being an informal social media site, Facebook is the largest social media site on the internet. With 1.4 billion active users, you can connect with almost anyone. LinkedIn, on the other hand, has a more modest user base of 187 million active users. This also means that you are more likely to be researched by recruiters on Facebook than other social media sites.
    It is important to maintain a professional looking profile; this means regularly posting content about developments in your industry, a high-quality profile picture, and an informative "About" section. This will make it easy to connect with other professionals and improve your personal brand. Remember to participate in discussions on company pages, industry groups and relevant discussions with your existing network to improve your exposure.
  • Formal events are a great way to make a lasting impact on people in your field. There are several opportunities in most cities to connect with relevant peers. Most universities host talks from industry veterans and career days where you can meet prospective employers. Non-profit organisations such as Let’s Network, Creative Mornings and Eventbrite often host their own free networking sessions where players from various industries will attend and discuss their perspectives on developments and market trends.
    Remember to do your research so you are prepared to talk to guest speakers and recruiters and ask questions about their hiring process and what they look for in applicants.
  • Informal events such as Friday bars at your university or workplace will be an opportunity to personally get to know your colleagues and fellow students. Any good conversation should be followed up with an invitation to connect on the social networks that you use as well as an invitation to check out your work.
  • Mentorships are great for students that are at any stage of their career. A mentor can guide you through the best ways to network in a particular industry, introduce you to relevant contacts, help you determine your professional direction, and most importantly, provide you with the coveted reference that will add credibility to your applications.
    Mentors can be found everywhere, the boss that you get along well with, one of your professors that you have regular after class discussions with, or local, established professionals that are in a position that you would like to reach one day. Reach out to these mentors with a request for guidance, remember to include why you chose them and what you expect from their mentorship.

Failing to prepare is preparing to fail

Before you go out there and start networking you should ask yourself a few questions to prepare for any encounter with professional peers and potential employers. These questions will help you with communicating your personal brand and appearing as professional as possible:

  • What is your networking goal? Regardless of why you want to build your network, having a clear and concise goal will help you with understanding what and how to prepare for any social situation.
  • How do you appear on social media sites? Is your Facebook feed full of cat videos? Is your Instagram profile full of pictures of bathroom selfies? Consider how you want to be seen by prospective recruiters and portray yourself accordingly.
  • What is your personal brand? Try to think about your vision, values, passions, your goals, and your core competencies. These will, of course, differ slightly, depending on your target audience.
  • Do you have an elevator pitch? An elevator pitch is the best way to introduce yourself to recruiters and new contacts. It allows you to “pitch” your personal brand as well as your qualifications and skills in under thirty seconds.

Staying competitive in today's job market and getting a positive start in your career will require a lot of time and effort. Actively networking will help you get there and meet your professional goals. Get out there and meet your future colleagues, learn more about your industry, and find out how to shape the career of your dreams. Happy networking!

Written by Alexander Schultz-Lloyd from Market-Inspector UK