In a competitive job market, gaining an edge comes down to "who do you know, and what have you done," said Jeff Silver, director of career services at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. That means reaching out to alums from your college or university and developing contacts in your field.
Northeastern's Stein said networking is even more important for graduates in industries that only hire a few candidates at a time. But she also said many students misunderstand the process.
"When you network, you don't go up to someone and say, 'Hi, I need a job, what can you do for me?'" she said. Instead, students must build relationships with contacts over time in a way that's informational rather than imposing.