Connections are the golden ticket to entering the workforce

As I scrolled through available positions on LinkedIn weighing my options, the sea of “entry level” positions requiring several years of experience that already had hundreds of applicants made me feel like I couldn’t keep my head above water. 

Getting a head start on a career while completing a bachelor’s degree can be an obstacle for busy college students. Only 47% of recent graduates have been able to secure full-time employment in a job related to what they studied in college as of 2022, according to a survey from Resume Builder. In my experience, networking helps overcome the struggle of getting the position you want.

In the previous spring semester, I submitted so many applications for summer internships that I couldn’t keep track. While most of my time was spent scrolling through job postings and filling out applications, I also sent letters of interest and resumes to organizations that I wanted to work for. 

I was interested in communications positions, and reached out to the communications director of a community organization that I believed in. At the time, they weren’t advertising open positions, but I found her email address on the “opportunities” page of their website and decided to take a shot. I sent an email explaining why I wanted to work for them with my resume attached, and when I got a response, we set up a meeting for the next day. 

After my first conversation with Erica Waltemade, communications director of Soma West Community Benefit District, I ended the interview with a new job, boss and mentor. I was shocked that I could work where I wanted as a student without a degree, and that I got my foot in the door by simply sending an email. 

Speaking on the value of reaching out personally, Waltemade shared her perspective as a director. “I desperately needed someone but I was so busy, especially when we’re talking [about] nonprofits and small businesses. They don’t even have time to look, but they know they need someone. That’s why when you emailed, it was so easy.” 

There isn’t a one size fits all approach to networking, but small outreach attempts can go a long way. Exhibiting perseverance and ambition encourages employers to invest in our futures. Offering reassurance as someone who once dreaded networking, Waltemade said, “networking is not awkward, it’s just conversations with someone who cares about the same things as you.” 

As a student, Waltemade “was terrified of being in a room with people who have what I wanted or [them thinking] I was trying to get something from them.” As intimidating as networking can be, I’d rather someone close the door on me than to close it on myself. “When I started to develop in my career, I had something to offer, which is: good conversation, connections and ideas,” said Waltemade. 

According to CSUMB Career Development Associate Director Rhonda Evans, a barrier for students pursuing their careers during school is stress. “I think they’re overwhelmed with school, with family, with work. They want to take advantage [of campus resources], but their lives are busy.” At the Career Center, “we can help you dispel [feelings of] being afraid if you don’t know what you want to do,” she added.

While I agree that stress and busy schedules are obstacles, another primary factor is the lack of outreach on the students’ part. “[Students] should get to know their advisors because each one of our advisors is in a specialty degree program. They’re experts, and they understand the industry and what the employer wants”, said Evans. 

Students may be skeptical of their own qualifications or the opportunities available, but we have nothing to lose by reaching out – whether that be to someone who has the ability to connect us to our desired field, or career services on campus. 

When we set small goals as stepping stones, the bigger picture of our careers become more tangible. 

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