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Gen Y money: Job hunting with little experience? Try networking

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Welcome to our Gen Y money blog, where a recent grad chronicles her journey to becoming a financially independent adult.

"Required: One to three years of experience." These were the most frequent and discouraging words I read during my job search.

Fresh out of school with only a year of industry-related internship experience under my belt and student debt payments looming, I needed a paying job, fast. But how was I supposed to bridge the experience gap to land an entry-level position?

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The solution that worked for me: Networking.

At first, I was incredibly intimidated at the thought of networking. I didn't think that anyone would want to connect with me – after all, I had nothing to offer except my scant work experience and a frantic air of desperation. I also figured that an established network was required to, well, network, and once again, that was an area in which I was coming up short.

What I slowly realized was that my ability to network was thwarted by my lack of confidence. I had been shaken by rejection after rejection, which made me mistakenly think that I was un-hireable. In reality, what I needed was to change my approach to job hunting.

"Networking is important for new graduates because they don't have a large contact base," says New York-based Vicky Oliver, author of 301 Smart Answers to Tough Interview Questions. The best way to start gaining contacts? "Build your network by getting out there."

I started growing my network by passing my resume to anyone and everyone – friends, family, former co-workers – anyone who might let me tap into their contact base. Since I was essentially starting from scratch, my strategy was to cast a wide net and hope that the right opportunity would swim my way. And it worked – one of my uncle's business associates passed off my resume to a co-worker, who then sent it through to a marketing agency, where I was ultimately hired.

Ms. Oliver recommends taking a more targeted approach to networking, especially when looking to land a position in your desired industry. "Research industry-related groups on LinkedIn – observe first, and get involved when you're comfortable." She suggests a similar strategy for in-person networking events: "Research which events are worth your time, and go with the idea that you want to get peoples' business cards."

One great thing about networking is that it's essentially free, costing only the time and energy required to make a meaningful connection. In addition to online outreach, free or low-cost in-person networking opportunities also abound, especially in the Toronto startup scene. I've had luck finding networking events on Eventbrite, Meetup, and StartupNorth. (Bonus: Sometimes these events come with complimentary beer and pizza.)

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As for my networking shyness, it disappeared quickly after I took the initial plunge. Two things to keep in mind at in-person networking events: Everyone there probably feels just as awkward as you do and people love talking about themselves.

Take in-person meetings as an opportunity to ask someone questions about themselves to establish a personal relationship before connecting online. Although LinkedIn and Twitter can be used to make introductions, they're better tools for maintaining and managing your contacts. "You can't hire online," says Ms. Oliver. "Take the mental leap and build your networking muscle. It gets better with time."

It's difficult to provide a specific set of guidelines for how to approach a networking opportunity, simply because no two relationships are the same. My two cents: Be confident, and don't be afraid to ask. If you're looking for a job, take the time to find the hiring manager and reach out to them. Chances are, you're making their job easier by showing interest and initiative.

And don't stop there – continue to build your network as you launch your career to build more bridges. As Ms. Oliver says, "The best way to network is when you don't need something."

Networking is the currency of career building. Spend a bit of time making connections - it will be worth your while.

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