This is a guest post by Sean O’Keefe

What is the #1 reason why students land internships and jobs?

It’s not their GPA. It’s not their major. It’s not the reputation of their college. And it’s not even their experience.

The most important characteristic of students who land the internships and jobs they want is being proactive. Students who take initiative to strategically create relationships with professionals are the most likely to succeed.

See, most students are reactive: they respond to the opportunities put in front of them. They spend most of their time anonymously applying to jobs online. Maybe they show up at a career fair, info session, or speaker event. Unfortunately, these activities won’t differentiate them from the thousands of other students seeking similar opportunities. If your job search strategy is to react to the opportunities easily accessible, you’re missing an enormous opportunity.

Proactive job searching, on the other hand, allows you to access jobs of all types—including jobs that aren’t even posted online. The key to proactive job searching is taking action to create professional relationships and conduct career conversations. Career conversations are informal meetings, typically conducted via video chat, in which students can gain insights into career paths, job functions, industries, and more.

It’s recommended that you begin building your professional network via career conversations before you NEED an internship or job. This way, when you are looking for a position, you can contact the people you met for a career conversation and ask about opportunities, ask for advice, or even land an interview without having to apply online. As the saying goes, “Dig your well before you are thirsty.” By building your network throughout your college career and your life, you will have a well of opportunities available through your connections.

There’s nothing wrong with applying to jobs online or going through traditional interview processes, but you should pair this approach with proactive networking to raise your odds of getting an interview. People generally hire people they know or people recommended to them, so you need to be known to have the best shot of getting hired.

Let’s imagine you are an internship hiring manager with two stacks of resumes on your desk. One stack contains 100 resumes from students who anonymously applied online. The other stack contains just five resumes from students who were recommended by current employees. Which stack would you tackle first? The students with personal recommendations are far more likely to be hired. And asking the right series of questions while conducting career conversations is the best way to get a recommendation.

It’s important to remember that even with proactive networking, you won’t have a 100% success rate. Some of your emails won’t get responses, even when you follow up. Some of your job applications won’t lead to an interview. Some professionals will be too busy to meet with you. Remember, it’s a numbers game. Don’t get discouraged. Action gets rewarded, so keep taking action. Challenge yourself to embrace “failure” and stay persistent even when it seems like nothing is working. Over time, your proactive networking will pay off, and professionals will want to meet with you.

In the words of leadership expert Stephen Covey, “Being proactive is more than taking initiative. It is recognizing that we are responsible for our own choices and have the freedom to choose based on principles and values rather than on moods or conditions. Proactive people are agents of change and choose not to be victims, to be reactive, or to blame others.

Being proactive ultimately comes down to being the driver, not the passenger, in your career journey. You have likely put a lot of time, effort, and money into your college education, so you owe it to yourself to seek out a career that will make you fulfilled. The best way to landing a career like this is through proactive relationship-building with professionals. Good luck and get started!

About the guest post author:

Sean O’Keefe is an award-winning professor, respected researcher, and sought-after speaker on creating social capital, career readiness, internships, and jobs. He is the founder and chief impact officer of Career Launch, a social enterprise that partners with colleges and career programs to equitably scale students’ ability to create professional relationships and launch effective job or internship searches in the hidden job market. He earned his BA in communication at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and his MBA from Santa Clara University. He is the author of LAUNCH YOUR CAREER: How ANY Student Can Create Relationships with Professionals and Land the Jobs and Internships They Want (Berrett-Koehler Publishers), written in partnership with The Career Leadership Collective.