By Brian Clapp
If you've just graduated or are wrapping up an internship and find yourself in job-seeker mode, you've probably been inundated with the career cliche: "It's not what you know, but who you know."
Those are nine very scary words for anyone without many professional contacts. (And who are we kidding? Lots of us lack professional contacts when we're new to the workforce.) That cliche can also turn into an excuse: "I don't know anyone, so how in the world am I going to break into my field? I might as well just give up, move home and plant flowers with Mom."
Don't worry; we've all been there. And digging in the dirt with Mom should scare you way more than creating a network. Put down the Garden Weasel, take a deep breath, and start building your network from the bottom up with a simple technique anyone can replicate.
We all know it's important to make the right impression by working hard, listening to advice and learning from your mistakes. But you want to be truly memorable, right? For that, you need a follow-up plan.
Try this: Each time you meet someone through an internship, volunteer work, networking events, conferences and career fairs, go low-tech to correspond with them.
What do I mean by low-tech?
Write hand-written cards.
Whoa! Crazy talk!
Every guy reading this just thought, "Sounds kind of... girly. Should I put unicorn stickers on the note, too?"
Get over yourself. Everyone sends emails; it's an easy way to communicate and shows no real effort. Be different... and if you must, buy manly cards.
In today's office environment, the average person gets about 50 to 100 emails per day. Per day! Now imagine how your meager "thank you for your time" email is treated amid a sea of meeting requests and inter-office banter.
Writing a handwritten note is a welcome change among all the computer-generated fluff -- a warm heartbeat in a sea of cold Arial font. It's real. Just make sure you have a human spell-checker who's as good as Microsoft's.
Okay, I bought cards. Now what?
Keep a record of all the people you make contact with and specific things they helped you learn. Within a week after your internship (or conference visit, or networking event) is complete, get to work writing and sending out your cards.
The biggest takeaway: Keep it simple and make it specific.
Let's say you shadowed a sales manager for a local pro sports team and they allowed you to listen in on a sales call. Here's an appropriate card to send:
"Just wanted to say thank you for allowing me to shadow you during my recent internship at (insert company name). Being able to listen in on your sales call and hear how smoothly you were able to close a deal gave me great insight into what it takes to work in sales. I graduate in the spring and really look forward to talking to you again in the near future."
In one simple card, you've:
- shown you appreciated the opportunity and their time.
- proven you paid attention.
- shown respect for their advice.
- told them when you are available for a full-time job.
This technique can be applied to any industry: sales, business, broadcasting, advertising, you name it.
In my career, I've interviewed hundreds of potential employees and received just three hand-written cards. Three. Two of those people got hired, and the other was a Seattle SuperSonics cheerleader who dotted her i's with hearts but wasn't qualified.
Those three people were disruptive to my normal routine -- in a good way. They stood out. You can stand out, too, and build a network of contacts and supporters from the bottom up with just the power of your pen.
Brian Clapp is the founder of SportsTVJobs.com, the richest online resource for aspiring sports broadcasting professionals. You can connect with Brian on Twitter via @SportsTVJobs.
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