A quality resume is certainly a necessity. For many jobs, counting on people in your professional network to speak positively on your behalf may carry more weight than even the most well-crafted resume and cover letter. However, developing a network can be difficult and time consuming. Despite the challenges, it is essential you build a network early on in your professional life.

Choose Your Major Early
According to a study by Dr. Fritz Grupe, founder of MyMajors.com, 50% of college students changed their majors at least once while in college. Unless your new major is closely related to your original major, your professional network will most likely have to be rebuilt completely from scratch. However, you shouldn't stay enrolled in a major you don't like. The sooner you can decide on the career path that's right for you, the sooner you can begin to build your network.

Social Media
Social media sites like LinkedIn are very effective network building tools. These platforms provide opportunities to build relationships with others. You can read up on the best way to make LinkedIn work for you. Participating in LinkedIn groups related to your field can be a great way to get conversations started.

Find the Executives
If you're a college student, building a network full of other college students might allow you to exchange ideas, but it will likely do very little to help you get a job or move up in your current position. Look for executives, managers and others already established in the industry. It may be intimidating at first, but the more you practice the better you'll become. Starting conversations with upper-level executives is a skill that will pay off when you start interviewing for jobs.

Join a Group
Nearly every career path has a professional organization. Often, these groups will offer discounts for student members. Once you're a member, you'll likely receive invitations to industry conferences and other events. Even if you don't have a business card, have some cards with your contact information to pass out as you meet people. If you're a college student, professional conferences, especially those close to your school, are events that should be attended.

One of the best ways to build a professional network is to volunteer or accept an intern position. Interns that stand out because of superior work ethic and attention to detail will quickly build connections who would be happy to be used as references. Many interns are later offered jobs at the companies they intern with. Getting paid nothing for a while can often lead to your first job.

Think About Your Personal Network
Talk to your extended family and friends. They may know people who have the potential to be valuable members of your professional network. You can use Facebook and Twitter to reconnect with people you haven't spoken to in a long time in an effort to build your professional network.

Write an Article
As you progress through your major and gain specialized knowledge, you should consider writing an article in exchange for a byline with your contact information. Even a community newsletter might attract the attention of somebody who could be a valuable resource to you in the future.

The Bottom Line
A strong resume is important, but in an environment where there are more graduating college students than available jobs, any opening will result in a large amount of resumes. Even your well-crafted resume will be one of many strong resumes reviewed by the hiring manager. Your professional network should move you to the top of the stack. Without that network, your chances of standing out are much lower.

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