Virtual Networking: 4 Tips for College Students and Recent Grads

by Ben Kissam

In the working world, it’s all about who you know—or so the saying goes. This definitely has some merit, at least according to a recent Jobvite survey that found 37 percent of people discovered a job through their professional network.

Remote learning may have changed the way students currently live and operate. But virtual networking is still possible and can be just as effective for landing your first opportunity after college.

Here are four ways you can bolster your online network this school year.

1. Connect with Prospective Employers

When you are working to build your network virtually, you may wonder how to get started. Those with lots of contacts in their field or industry didn’t wait for something to come along—they took action, which led to the opportunities they received later.

Here’s a simple virtual networking strategy almost any student or recent graduate can use: commit to writing three individualized emails (don’t copy and paste) to prospective employers every weekday until you find your first lead or job.

The whole process should take you about 45 minutes each day, including research. And over the course of just one month, you’ll have sent more than 60 emails to different companies. That’s a great way to take proactive steps to build your career contacts.

2. Promote Yourself (the Right Way) on Social Media

It’s easy to think of platforms like Instagram and Facebook as separate from your professional life. The reality, though, is that many employers don’t exactly see it that way! It’s important to maintain an online presence—and crucial that your posts don’t undermine your personality or abilities.

According to a CareerBuilder study, researchers found that:

  • 70 percent of employers said they use social media to screen candidates before hiring
  • 69 percent of employers will type a candidate’s name into Google or other search engines before making a hiring decision
  • 57 percent of employers said they were less likely to interview a candidate that they couldn’t find online

These numbers convey an important truth about virtual networking: your social media accounts should convey you in a positive light. Review all your social accounts and make sure whatever comes up is promoting you, not hurting you, in the eyes of prospective employers.

3. Build and Optimize a Professional Profile on LinkedIn

Of all the social media platforms, LinkedIn is the most important for virtual networking. As a recent graduate or current college student about to enter the job market, it should also be one of your top priorities to create a professional page on this platform. This includes:

  • Filling out your profile completely
  • Connecting with teachers, friends, and peers to start growing your network
  • Using a professional profile picture
  • Having past employers endorse skills on your page

The benefit of doing this is that your page becomes like a virtual business card, which you can use to attract potential employers. It also allows LinkedIn’s algorithms to match you to jobs or companies that fit your work experience and skills, effectively streamlining the job hunt for you.

Rachel Bodell, DBA, assistant professor in Azusa Pacific University’s School of Business and Management, picked up several LinkedIn networking strategies from a Certified Professional LinkedIn Recruiter, which she shares with her students.

First, Bodell says, use 40 or more words in your headline and summary to organically increase search engine optimization.

“The headline should not be general but specific to your core message and skills,” she explains. “For example, ‘student’ or ‘business student’ is too general and does not offer the viewer value-added insight into who you are. Don’t give up the opportunity to specifically convey something unique about who you are in your headline. For example, try something more specific like, ‘MBA candidate, trained digital marketing intern, and aspiring consumer insights researcher.’”

And what makes for a professional photo that pairs well with your LinkedIn headline? “Think natural light, high resolution, limited filters, and suitable dress to fit the part,” says Bodell. “Professional headshots often focus the viewer on your eyes. Avoid distracting backgrounds, head tilts, and frowning.”

The effort to capture a quality photo is absolutely worth it. According to eye-tracking technology, a professional photo designed to communicate that you are knowledgeable, kind, and trustworthy may increase your LinkedIn views by as much as 14 percent, notes Bodell.

“LinkedIn is for connecting but it is also an informational resource for future employers to see consistency regarding your character and competence with what you present to them in other formats like emails, resumes, and interviews,” Bodell reminds job seekers.

4. Take Advantage of Alumni Resources

No doubt the internet is full of opportunities. Just don’t forget to maximize the institutional resources available to you as a remote learner! Many colleges and universities have growing alumni networks that current students and recent graduates can use to stay connected and find professional opportunities.

Azusa Pacific University’s Office of Alumni Engagement is specifically dedicated to helping students stay in the loop after graduation, and the Career Center helps alumni connect with businesses and organizations that are hiring for jobs and internships. APU alumni stay connected via monthly newsletters, get notified of alumni events, and can sign up for Handshake, an online forum for career networking with fellow graduates and employers.

Connecting with other APU alumni comes with an advantage: you share common ground with the contact or potential employer right away. You’re also connecting with someone who’s familiar with the Four Cornerstones at APU: Christ, Scholarship, Community, and Service.

Whichever approach you take, it really does come down to who you know (or meet along the way). By positioning yourself as a young professional and staying in control of your virtual networking options, you’ll give yourself the best chance of landing a great job right out of school.

Looking for more tips around preparing for life after college? Check out Azusa Pacific University’s article offering advice for recent college grads.