This issue is something that’s important to me on a couple different levels. First, I personally have always felt I’m intimidated by networking – and it’s something that I’ve struggled my entire life to overcome. Second, my little sister is now a junior in college, going through the same challenges. Finally, as someone who has spent his career thinking about students and education, I have had a front row seat to the great recession, and the challenges facing today’s college graduates as they begin their careers.
My experience at Berkeley was entirely sink-or-swim. You either geared up for the existing on campus interviews and beat out the competition through sheer brilliance, or you established a support system through friends or a professional business fraternity, and learned how to recruit. Or, like the vast majority of us, you simply threw your resume at a wall of job postings, hoping something would stick. And the alumni directory was a closely guarded resource, one that I never had the privilege of seeing let alone using. My sister’s access to the alumni directory at Bryn Mawr is similarly curtailed. But Bryn Mawr is a small liberal arts school that prides itself on strong traditions and private school hand-holding – surly we should expect better of such an institution – after all Berkeley is a public school serving ten times as many undergrads on one fourth the tuition. But no, she has no help.
Today, it’s slightly easier because LinkedIn exists. The alumni directory is essentially public – ripe for the plucking if only someone taught students how to pluck. But who is teaching my sister to get on LinkedIn? In fact, I sat down with a friend who manages the Education vertical at LinkedIn, and he said that they recently launched a new alumni directory page on LinkedIn and now have an offering for university alumni directories to be powered by LinkedIn. So LinkedIn is taking the burden on themselves to make sure the information is there – and their active usage this year is through the roof – so let’s say 60% of the alumni base is available via LinkedIn.
Now, who is teaching students about informational interviews? The InternQueen seems more interested in her book tour. InternMatch seems to only be interested in getting companies to use it’s intern recruiting platform – not nearly as interested in teaching students how to fend for themselves as how to get hooked on another easy platform. And ReadyForce is focused on technical hires, where there is such a supply shortage that any students who even bother to do the interview for ReadyForce’s site will likely get snapped-up by a Google, Facebook, or Amazon within minutes.
The answer won’t come from the President. It won’t come from the top down. It is going to require some way of changing a student’s mindset so that networking isn’t intimidating – so that it becomes less hostile and more about learning and helping others. I’m reminded of Keith Ferrazi’s book Never Eat Alone – he talked a lot about a “pay it forward” approach to networking – his mindset in any conversation was always “how can I help the person in front of me?” rather than “how can the person in front of me help me get ahead?” That approach made networking feel less sleazy for him – it made him feel like he was adding value, not just taking it. I think that was a really valuable philosophy and something I’ve tried to emulate. I don’t know how to make this scale, but it’s worth thinking about more…