Do you love TV? Me too. Full disclosure: I have a Downton Abbey obsession that is responsible for many lost hours. Viva the Dowager! I've also shamelessly binge-watched Game of Thrones, House of Cards, Friends, and - in very low moments, The Real Housewives of New Jersey. Yes...you can judge me. :) Related: 2 Odd Job Search Problems That Happen In January So, I understand how easy it is to sit on the couch, turn on the TV, and end up there for far longer than you had planned. It happens to all of us. But...maybe it’s time to draw the line. As a career coach, I talk to many people about their struggles with work, and a few things come up again and again. The surprising thing: Some of the problems they experience (and you might too), start with that little box under your TV.

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This article was written by Christie Mims, founder of The Revolutionary Club, on behalf of the Happy Grad Project. You’ve graduated from college (yay!), life is about to begin... but you can’t seem to find a job. No one seems to want those amazing English, History, or Social Science skills, and grad school is starting look more appealing, right? Related: How To Leverage Your Alumni Network To Get A Job I’ve been there. Who’s a former history major? THIS girl! And, not surprisingly, I had a lot of trouble when I first started out in my career. There was a lot of substitute teaching, blackjack dealing, and bartending that happened before I started to have success. When I think back from my lofty Career Coach perch, there is one trick I wish had been taught as an undergrad. It's so simple, yet sometimes feels so hard...

Building strong connections with real (currently employed) people.

You may call this networking, but I think it’s more than that. A lot of us view networking as a numbers game - how many people can I meet at an event and how many business cards can I hand out? This generic view of networking has a flaw: There isn’t an emphasis on quality, just on quantity. But I’d argue that the quality of your network will have a lasting impact on your career success (and salary) from Day 1- Day 100,000. So, given that, it’s really REALLY important.

Why this matters

Think about your life so far - how have you gotten things? Most likely, because someone helped you. They point you in the right direction, they introduce you to a group or an idea, they advocate for you, or they help you with an essay or a question. This practice will continue to be true for you in your career. Hearing about job openings, getting referrals, having someone advocating for your promotion, getting salary and benefits insight before you negotiate, all of this comes from your strong connections. Good connections matter.

Find two kinds of people

To reap all of this success, you want to build strong connections with two different kinds of people: 1) someone who wants to be in a similar space as you, and 2) someone who's already in it. The first person is someone who wants to have a similar career path to you. Maybe it’s in consulting or medicine, maybe it’s something else. Regardless, make an agreement with them to be full-on career co-conspirators. You’ll share information about your jobs, about your salaries, about your benefits and working environments. That way, you’ll have a great leg up in salary negotiations, insight into different companies, and someone to commiserate with and share learnings with as you both progress. This will put you ahead of the curve (and the paycheck!). The second group (this will be many people actually), are folks who are in places you want to be. Whether that is a specific job or a specific company, befriend people who are employed and have wisdom and insight to offer, and learn from them. Take them out for coffee and pick their brains (don’t worry, most of them will end up buying the coffee for you, but it’s still nice to offer), and really get to know them. Often, a simple email introduction and easy request (“I love what you do, specifically XYZ. You seem to have a lot to offer and I would love to beg 20 minutes of your time to learn from you over a coffee. Would that be possible?”). Once you have their focus, ask questions like...
  • “What do you love about your job?”
  • “What challenges do you have?”
  • “What do you wish you had known?”
  • “What skills are required?”
  • “What advice do you have for someone just starting out?”
And then follow up. Send them a helpful article, drop them an email, or introduce them to someone useful from your (growing!) network. Eventually, you can gently inquire about open positions - do they know of anyone hiring? And if they do, would they be willing to refer you? (They’ll often do a lot more, including giving you insight into salary). But focus first on building the relationship and treat them like a real and important person. Do your homework on them, learn about them, care about what they have to say. You’ll be amazed at the results and how much help (and opportunity) these strong connections will be willing to throw your way.

To start

Make a list of five people (use LinkedIn or your college Alumni network), that you want to connect with and the reason why. Research them and then reach out for coffee. And... Find your career co-conspirator and start sharing secrets. The great news? If you use a little flattery and really take the time, about 80% of people you contact (even cold) will say yes. Seriously, you will get far more people saying “yes”than “no.”I promise! In the comments, please share some of your networking secrets - what’s worked well for you and why? I’d love to hear. And, if you’re not sure where to begin because you don’t know what you want to do with yourself? Get my six simple steps to finding work you love right here, it’s free!

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