With Thanksgiving right around the corner, we’re all getting excited to see family, friends and of course enjoy the big feast. As you make your plans for time at home, why not utilize the time off to connect with local professionals? While the time home is short, a one-hour conversation with a connection in your future field of interest can give you some direction that may benefit your job search.

By doing the proper networking homework, you can find a valuable contact in your field. Last month we introduced the basics of search and how to leverage your profile online. Now, we will focus on making face-to-face contact with future mentors or even co-workers. We will explore LinkedIn’s features, learn the proper way to set up a meeting with a professional and follow-up to maintain a strong relationship.

Refine Your Search

So you’ve set up your LinkedIn profile, but you don’t know where to begin. Start by joining groups you are currently affiliated with. The first is a given, your university alumni group. With almost 15,000 members, The Wisconsin Alumni Association group can connect you to fellow Badgers across the globe.

According to Director of Diversity and U.S. Chapters at WAA Tina Bohling, LinkedIn “has more of a personal touch that makes a big difference among alumni.”

You can take your network a step further by joining your respective major, as well as student organizations and interest groups, that will help refine your search. These groups will give you access to discussion boards, job postings and personal profiles.

Let’s say you are in marketing and looking for a job at General Electric. After typing in General Electric, their corporate page will have a feature that notifies which people in the company are in your network. There are 150 Badgers working at GE in marketing that could be resources to help you get connected to this company. From there you decide what’s the proper etiquette to contact someone via social media.

Set up a Meeting

While accessing someone online seems like a piece of cake, you must be conscious of people’s privacy. Being in someone’s network doesn’t mean you can abuse the privilege and flood his or her inbox with incessant questions. Remember this: Fellow alumni and local professionals generally want to help you out, not only because of their pride in their alma mater, but also the fact that they have been in your shoes.

The key is to approaching them correctly. If you start a message by expressing your need for a job, people will think you are using them for their contacts as opposed to their personal advice. Alumni will be more inclined to open up an informal e-mail titled “Helping Out a Fellow Badger,” rather than “Looking for a Job at Your Company.”

Give a little background about yourself; explain your passions and interest in learning more about their life path. You could also get a few brownie points by mentioning recent company news or commenting on a new project or blog post they have been involved in. You can emphasize your short stay back home, and how it would be helpful to have an informal meeting to help guide you toward your next step in life.

Follow-up

This is the most crucial step that many of us seem to lose sight of. Forgetting this step is like giving up on the last mile of a marathon. Write a thank you note.

Yes, a column based on new media is telling you to send snail mail.

There are so many e-mails a day that you can easily get lost in the shuffle, not to mention the lack of appreciation you show for the time they put aside to meet with you. Standing out is important, and sending a nice note to express your gratitude can make all the difference. Keeping a fresh contact is important, and following up can remind your contact to potentially introduce you to someone valuable in their network.

Making a connection in your online group or field of interest is sure to bring you one step closer to navigating your future life path. A simple message can lead to a valuable contact, but you will never know unless you put yourself out there.

So be sure to enjoy the turkey and stuffing, and don’t forget to save room for a little networking during your time home.

Bree Bunzel is a senior majoring in journalism. Want more advice or having a social media glitch on your way to becoming networked? E-mail Bree at [email protected]