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It was Jerod Kintz who wrote, “It’s not who you know that matters -- it’s who knows you that’s important. Personal branding builds up your reputation to the point where you have a presence even in your absence.”

We all put an emphasis on content and knowledge-building in our classes. We recognize that it is important to review, revise and update content every semester to assure that what we are teaching is forward-looking, not teaching through the rearview mirror. Skill-building is also an important part of today’s classes. With the advent of artificial intelligence and allied technologies, the tools in most fields have changed, and along with them the needed skills of career professionals. Integrating those skills into our classes keeps them relevant and gives students the abilities to perform competently in their chosen careers.

However, far too often we miss one of the most important elements that helps students to better understand what is expected in their career and advance within their chosen fields. Julia Freeland Fisher and Mahnaz Charania write in EdSurge, “Skills Are Great -- But It’s Who You Know That Lands You a Job”:

As well-intentioned as these education and workforce investments may be, the inconvenient truth is that skills and jobs aren’t one and the same. The reality, in fact, is much messier. And more human. Social networks and relationships function as something of an unspoken currency in the world of work. An estimated half of all jobs come through personal connections. And even earlier in the educational pipeline, students’ networks are proven to shape their career ambitions.

One obvious and useful first step is to send students -- perhaps virtually -- to the university career center. These professionals are adept in developing résumés, writing application letters and creating a career search. In some cases, they can also help students create relationships with professions that are targeted to their specific career interests.

However, developing an effective network for every student is beyond the work of one unit. It is something that should be cultivated in every class that students take in their major. How can we give our students a customized network that will serve them in finding and filling job openings?

Here are some strategies:

  • Recommend that all students create a professional LinkedIn account in their first class in the major. Connect with the students from your own professional account. Encourage colleagues, especially professionals who may be adjuncts, to connect with students they get to know in their classes. The purpose is to establish and begin building a network early, when students are years away from graduation or semesters away from certificate completion.
  • Create an assignment that requires students to contact current managers and leaders in their field. Perhaps this might be in the context of a report on the current environment in the career field, identifying areas of growth and emphasis. Require in-person or email interviews that elicit direct quotes from the professional. Put an emphasis on students following up on their interview with a LinkedIn connection request.
  • Assign students to write a feature article for the student newspaper, department newsletter or another outlet such as a blog, YouTube or radio station. In doing so, have the students include first-person interviews with leaders (employers) in their field.
  • Strongly encourage students to follow up with their contacts through LinkedIn messaging every semester. These can be just a brief update such as “I wanted to share with you that I completed a case study on …” or “I wanted to let you know that I met with your colleague to talk about the opportunities they saw in our field.” In short, keep the virtual relationship alive.
  • Assign each student to invite a corporate leader or manager to make a presentation to the class or to be the principal in a question-and-answer session. These can include discussion board follow-ups. Encourage students to leverage this contact to build an online relationship.
  • Internships and job shadowing can be among the best experiences. These can build a memory of the student, especially as they provide the one-on-one time to build a relationship. In between the two are micro-internships that range from half a day to a full week of on-the-job working.
  • Use e-portfolios. If your university does not offer a free e-portfolio to students, help them find a basic free or inexpensive portfolio. Have students put exemplary assignments -- including grading where appropriate -- in the e-portfolio. Suggest that they share the e-portfolio with the contacts in the student’s network.
  • In a capstone class, invite a number of human resources managers to join the class either in person or online. Include a representative range of types and sizes of employers. In these sessions encourage questions about criteria for selection of applicants for interviews. As in previous cases, encourage students to follow up with LinkedIn connections.
  • Not all connections need be at the highest level -- encourage connections with entry-level workers as well. These contacts are often great networkers about trends and plans for job openings.

We may do an excellent job of educating and training our students, but if they don’t successfully make contacts, their careers may never reach their real potential.

Are your students hired immediately upon completion? Do you include network-building exercises in every class you offer? Do you have a departmentwide or collegewide plan for building effective networks for students? Many good things come from graduates gaining good jobs upon completion -- a healthy alumni association, a reputation for student success in careers and a better departmental relationship with the industry or profession.

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