You can do just about everything right in a job or internship search but still meet with frustration if you've neglected to build relationships with people.

People are your most valuable resources in practically every phase of career development. They can help you assess your skills and interests, explore possibilities, research trends and organizations, and target career or job options. By talking to people, you get information, advice, and referrals.

And, since around 80 percent of all jobs are never advertised, you can learn about opportunities that you wouldn't be aware of otherwise. The more contacts you make, the more likely you are to uncover the hidden job market.

Where to start building your network
Start by listing your natural networks of contacts:

  • Family and their friends
  • Friends and their families
  • Voluntary affiliations (e.g., clubs, community organizations, church)
  • Teachers, advisors, and coaches
  • Puget Sound alumni
  • Former work colleagues
  • Professionals
  • Others

Ask yourself, "Who do I know?" Add anyone who comes to mind to the list.

Let them know your interests and aspirations
The more people who know of your interests, the greater the chance that doors will open for you. Much is said about being in the right place at the right time, and luck certainly does play a part in life and career planning; but it's also possible to manage your luck to a degree. Your chances of being in the right place at the right time are increased when you are attentive to this fact.

If you have only vague notions of what you'd like to do, use your acquaintances as resources to help you discover your interests and desires. Ask them what they do, how they got interested in it, what they most like and dislike about their line of work. You can even ask friends what they see as your strengths. Although you should not rely solely on contacts to determine a direction, your friends and acquaintances may help you discover one. Use other tools simultaneously to assess your interests and skills, such as the Strong Interest Inventory or the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Both of these assessments are available in Career and Employment Services, Howarth 101.

Expand your network
As you develop a clearer picture of your work or career plans, you can begin to broaden your network of contacts beyond those closest to you. How? Again, people are the best source. If you can get two to four names from each of your natural contacts, your network will have expanded exponentially. When asking for referrals to other contacts, be specific: "Do you know anyone whose work responsibilities include (duty A, duty B, or duty C)?," or "Can you suggest anyone in this field whom I should contact?" Also, do not forget to ask if you can use the source's name when you make the new contact. In some cases, your original contact may even be willing to introduce you.

Other sources for expanding your network might be professional organizations—many of which have student membership rates, and discussion groups on LinkedIn.

At this point in your cultivation and nurturing of contacts you may be ready to use the more formal tool called the informational interview. You may have been employing it already, since you've been talking with others and gathering information to sharpen your focus and expand your network.