The One Skill Your College Kid Should Master Before Graduating

For the nearly three million students who receive associate’s and bachelor’s degrees annually, today’s job market is particularly saturated and presents many challenges, from landing that first job to eventually finding subsequent opportunities to advance. But the difficulties start well before college ends.

First jobs are hard to come by. Fewer than 20% of college graduates have a job lined up upon graduation and most will leave their first job within the first 12 months. Get used to marketing yourself, because that’s what the future holds.

So how can you get an advantage in this complex, competitive and ever-changing world?

Believe it or not you don’t have to be an expert in your field right away. But you do need to be an expert in one thing: meeting people.

The following is a Q&A with Pat Hedley, author of  Meet 100 People: A How-to Guide to the Career and Life Edge Everyone’s Missing.

After a 30 year career in finance, what inspired you to write Meet 100 People?

I wrote Meet 100 People for three reasons. First, I wanted to provide advice to others I would have liked to have had myself especially when first starting my career. Second, after leaving the firm I was with for 30 years, I had to re-invent myself and I did that by renewing and re-creating a valuable network of contacts. Finally, I have found that today’s generation is more digitally well-connected than ever but there is a reluctance, almost a fear, of meeting with people in person. I wanted to address these fears and re-frame networking to be accessible, joyful and life-affirming.

Meet 100 People, by Pat Hedley, is a book about how to network

My son/daughter is so worried about getting a job. How do I help them to think of networking in the right way?

Re-framing the job search to one of meeting people relieves the tremendous stress most people experience. Meeting new people is less intimidating than looking for a job and it has the additional benefit of laying the foundation for a network which will have life-long value. But you have to approach networking with the right mindset, one which is open, curious and willing to share and connect with others. You increase your luck and serendipity, or the chance something good will happen to you, with every person you meet.

What have you found to be the benefits of networking?

Meeting people allows you to learn what others are doing, gather valuable information that others have and gain important perspectives on life and on what ‘good’ looks like. The people you meet can make a real difference in your life by exposing you to opportunities, ideas and resources you might not otherwise have. You are a combination of your knowledge, skills, personal characteristics and the people you know. Networking is part of your value. The earlier you realize this, the better off you are.

What are some of the obstacles people face in building a strong network?

Most of the obstacles are self-inflicted and they are due to very natural fears people have. Many people, young people especially, don’t feel they have something to offer when meeting others. In fact, everyone has something to offer and young people, in particular, bring a perspective on the world that those who are older and more experienced want to hear.

Many people fear rejection, so they aren’t proactive. This is self-defeating. You have to try and get beyond the fear that someone will say ‘no’. If someone isn’t willing to engage and talk to you, there are others who are. Most older people are happy to give advice and pay it forward to the next generation. Don’t give up before getting started.

And finally, most of us fear failure. My perspective is that there is no such thing as failure – only learning. Every experience is a learning experience. Those experiences that take you out of your comfort zone are the best because they are allowing you to grow the most.

[Read Next: Wish Your Kid Could Get Career Advice From A CEO? Here It Is]

So how do you inspire and motivate people to go out and meet people?

First, I encourage individuals to do some self-examination. What do you want to accomplish? Who could be most helpful to you? Next, tap your existing network of friends, teachers, neighbors and relatives for warm introductions to their contacts. Then, start meeting people and create momentum. Never leave a meeting without asking, “who else should I meet”.

How do you ensure you get the most out of meeting someone new?

Your goal is to establish a ‘connection’, find a shared interest or experience so you can have a mutually enjoyable conversation. You start by doing some research. Learn about the person in advance, read about their company and their industry. Then when meeting someone new, remember two important things, ask them about themselves and then listen. Listen to their story and ask for their advice. There is so much to learn. And you never know where such conversations will lead. Finally, always follow-up with a thank you and stay in touch.

Why 100 people?

I set a lofty goal as one you couldn’t accomplish immediately. Like exercise, you need to commit to a little every week. With only 2 or 3 new people per week, you will start the process of learning a lot, building a foundation for a helpful network and gaining a lot of confidence along the way.

Meet 100 People in paperback can be purchased here. 

Related:

5 Reminders Why Our First Job Is So Important

College Graduation Gifts Your Off-to-Work Kids Will Love

Pat Hedley is passionate about the value of personal networks and is the author of Meet 100 People: A How-to Guide to the Career and Life Edge Everyone’s Missing.

Inspired by the experiences of the thousands of people she has interacted with over her own thirty-year career as an investor, Pat wrote Meet 100 People to encourage us all to proactively and consistently meet people in person. Everyone tells you to network but no one tells you how to do it. Pat’s book reframes networking to make it accessible, joyful and life-affirming especially as one is starting their career.

Pat is the founder and CEO of The Path Ahead, an advisory firm working with growth companies. She has invested in several innovative companies with energetic management teams who solve old problems in new ways. Pat is also Chairman of Reach the World, a non-profit promoting global awareness by connecting student travelers with classrooms through technology.

Pat and her husband live in CT and have three grown children, all gainfully employed.

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