3 Tips for Effective Networking, from One College Student to Another
As a college student (soon to be college graduate!) who’s taken multiple career skills courses, attended large-scale networking events, and listened to countless guest speakers harp about the importance of networking, I am here to say to you fellow students: It doesn’t have to suck.
As students, the number one piece of job search advice we are given is to network. But for many of us (myself included, not long ago), it is an empty word spouted by teachers and professionals without any context or guidance. Telling someone they need to “network” without giving any advice or pointers on how to do so is like being thrown to the wolves. I’m not implying that us college educated people can’t do a simple Google search to better understand the term and how to “do” it; rather, I’m saying it can be hard to navigate and understand how best to do it given the sea of resources and tools available in our digital worlds.
Over the past two years, I have heeded the advice of many professionals and professors and have cultivated my own professional network. While the process of networking will never be complete, I’ve learned a lot along the way and have developed my own “best practices.” If you find yourself utterly confused about how exactly to network (as I did early on in college), check out my tips below. Like anything, practice makes perfect, so the more you practice networking the easier and more natural it will feel (and you may even enjoy it!).
1. Take an active role in building your network. Unfortunately, your professional network won’t fall into your lap, as much as you might like it to. Making professional connections takes a little bit of strategy and a whole lot of hustle. Join professional organizations in your field, cold call or e-mail people you are interested in meeting, attend networking events, and ask friends and professors to introduce you to people in their own professional networks. Create a LinkedIn profile, connect with coworkers, classmates, and friends, and leverage those connections by reaching out to 2nd degree contacts. There are tons of ways to get yourself out there and meet people that can help you navigate your career path, offer advice, and connect you to others; You just have to be active and diligent to make it happen.
2. Don’t stop at a handshake. When you meet someone for the first time, it’s easy to shake hands, have a conversation, and part ways never to speak again. If this is your networking strategy, you might want to reconsider. Following up with a new contact, I would argue, is even more important than your first meeting. If you meet someone at a networking event, exchange business cards (if you have one) and reach out to them within two days to set up an informational interview, thank them for their time, or to ask them to connect you with people in their network. Putting in the extra effort to follow up shows that you are appreciative and thoughtful, and it opens the door to a professional relationship. Once you have established a professional relationship with someone, be sure to maintain regular contact with them. In my experience, many students stop at the handshake and fail to develop any kind of meaningful relationship with a new contact. Think of your network as a living entity that requires nurturing to grow and thrive. The more you put into it, the more you’ll get out of it
3. Get digital! Let’s face it: having a digital presence is not only useful, it’s becoming a necessity. If you have qualms about bugging people via e-mail, try following them on Twitter and sharing industry news and making conversation with them that way. As I mentioned before, LinkedIn is an extremely powerful networking tool if leveraged fully, and you should be sure to set up a profile and start connecting with new people you meet. (New to LinkedIn? Check out this great article on how to make the most out of LinkedIn.) Beyond Twitter and LinkedIn, there are a plethora of business and professional-minded social networking sites you can use to build your network and land a job (here are just a few). Actively engaging your network online is a great way to maintain relationships.
Meeting new people and building connections will not only get you a long way in your job search, but you’ll come to feel more connected to your industry on a personal level. I’ve met some truly inspiring and genuinely helpful people through networking–people I’ve come to think of as both mentors and friends. Just remember that networking doesn’t have to be stressful and forced; it can be fun! Tell me about your favorite networking story in the comments below!hips and keep abreast of new tools, information, and developments in your field.