One of the biggest stressors for students is the prospect of finding a job after university. They have studied and made it through their programs, but after graduation, many students find themselves at a crossroad. Graduating students often ask themselves: Should I go to work straight after university? Which industry should I work in? How should I approach recruiters? As these questions challenge students, career analysts recommend that students can bridge the gap between school and the workplace by networking to forge relationships with industry professionals.

There is, however, a variety of networking styles and events. For example, the Career Centre offers different networking nights, depending on your field of study, where they invite recruiters from companies that fall under a specific category.

At a networking night for marketing and communications on October 25th organized by the Career Centre, the event had students split off into different groups, with the recruiters going around each section to talk about how they achieved their current positions. Along with answering student questions, recruiters suggested next steps for students, including advice for post-graduate programs, emphasized the value of internships, and shared personal experience to help guide the student interests.

Clubs on campus also find value in networking and approach it in different ways. Tala Alkhadi, one of the executive members of the ICCIT council, talks about the different workshops the clubs offer to help students network in effective ways.

“One of the workshops that is upcoming is a portfolio critique,” says Alkhadi, “Industry professionals from a design background will come to UTM where students can get constructive feedback for their drawings and experience.”

She suggests students bring their resumes and pose questions to the recruiters: “Ask company recruiters what they look for and what the hiring process is like. Come with a purpose. Even if you are in first year, come out and learn about a business you’re interested in and grow your connections.”

Alkhadi also talked about  an upcoming Alumni Night where UTM invites graduates from the campus to come and engage with current students. “It can be comforting for students to use UTM as a common factor between them and the alumni, allowing them to get comfortable, have proper conversations with the recruiter, and ultimately grow their network.”

Meeting recruiters not only allows students to connect with their industry, but also encourages them to find opportunities and pursue interests. “If there are other people out there doing that job, then there’s no reason that you can’t be doing it,” says Lisa Peden, the undergraduate coordinator for ICCIT, when asked if people speak to her about how their desired occupation seems unrealistic to them.

Many students also find value in networking because of the information they find about hiring companies in an intimate setting.

“When I attend a networking event, I can really get an insider look on a company,” says Yi Rong Tan, a third-year CCIT student, “There is no one career strategy that will guarantee employment. It requires time to build connections, and to research your desired field as much as possible.”

Other clubs have taken traditional approaches to networking and added an extra layer designed for building skills. One such club is DECA chapter at UTM. DECA is an international organization focused on helping students build skills used for entrepreneurship, marketing, and management. Part of the monthly competition hosted by DECA UTM involves a role-playing situation where students must present their recommendations to a business question. Industry professionals, who are invited there, act as judges to rate the students’ performance.

Precious Benemerito, the president of DECA UTM, explains how the case competitions that DECA runs can really help a student’s professional development. “On the case competition day, we run workshops on professional skills like interviewing and networking. Students can also interact with alumni and the industry professionals,” she says.

Her advice for students that are new to networking would be to research the companies beforehand. If they are nervous, it’s better to go with a group of friends. “It’s important to have natural conversation. Networking is a process and takes a lot of perseverance, but learning to create these business relationships can open up future opportunities,” she adds.

Benemerito also mentions LinkedIn as an important resource: “It is a great tool to follow up with the employer, build a genuine rapport with them. If you are genuine, they will be able to see that, and will eventually remember your face and name.” Networking has played a part in Benemerito acquiring a new position at the professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. After attending DECA conferences and attending an in-house tour of PwC offices, the recruiters remembered her when she applied for the position.

Other helpful resources can be found at the Career Centre where career consultants can help inform students about different opportunities. “After taking a Learn to Network workshop for example, students are free to attend networking events on campus,” says Ann Gaiger, assistant Career Centre director. If they take a Career Exploration Workshop and a 15-minute module on the Career Learning website, students have access to different job search opportunities under their chosen field. Through this tool, students have access to a tour of a certain company. The Career Centre also organizes an external job shadowing program, where upon securing a placement, students have the opportunity to accompany an industry professional for a day.

“Students who follow-up with recruiters can conduct informational interviews with them on the current industry status,” says Gaiger.

Gaiger says that a combination of informal networking, like reaching out to friends and family for possible job exploration opportunities to formal events like networking nights on campus, can allow students to discover potential career paths and open them up to opportunities that may have not known about.

Whether you’re a seasoned networking enthusiast or a newcomer to these events, UTM offers many resources for students to find a starting point for their job searches and to ultimately help build their ideal career.