The Benefits of Networking for College Students
What is professional networking? Networking is simply making honest, genuine connections with others who have similar professional interests. It's understood that these relationships are mutually beneficial — that both parties are willing to help each other when they can.
Networking is particularly important to college students. While you're still in school, the people in your network may be able to help you set up informational interviews, externships, internships, and co-op job opportunities. Some may serve as mentors by providing guidance and advice about your education and career path.
Most importantly, members of your network may be able to help you land your first job after graduation by providing referrals. Imagine that you've just completed a job interview, and you're excited about the opportunity. The hiring manager is debating which of several qualified candidates to choose, and suddenly the manager receives a recommendation about you from someone in your network. That endorsement just may sway the decision in your favor.
How to Network In College
There are plenty of ways to begin your networking efforts while still in college. As you go about identifying people and connecting with them, consider these networking tips for college students:
Devote a little time to networking every day
Rather than tackling college networking all at once, try working on it a little bit at a time. Maybe one day, you'll strike up a conversation with a professor, and the next, you'll spend 20 minutes investigating potential connections on the internet. Slow but steady progress is your goal.
Be authentic in your conversations
People are turned off by fake interest, so be yourself and show you care about the person you're talking to. If you're developing a relationship with someone online, read their bio and look at their posts so you can have a real text conversation about your shared interests. The best networking relationships grow from genuine interest and concern.
Be strategic about your efforts
At both live events and through social networking, you'll find literally millions of people you could connect with, so be selective. Spend time nurturing relationships with people who have the job you'd like to have, who work in the industry where you plan to work, or who work at companies you might like to work for someday. Seek out the people who are in the best position to help you.
One of the most important networking skills for college students is the ability to connect with others online, which may be more comfortable for introverts. But before you begin, you'll want to create an online presence for yourself.
One possibility is to build your own website, which you can do fairly easily and cheaply through website builders like Wix, Network Solutions, or Web.com. Your website should contain professional photos, your resume, work examples, and possibly testimonials from others you've worked with. Another possibility is to build out a comprehensive LinkedIn profile.
Since LinkedIn is the top networking site for professionals, it's an ideal place to make and maintain connections. However, you may also find potential contacts through websites and online groups on various social media sites. Also, be sure to research your school's alumni association online to identify possible contacts. Once you've found people, send them connection requests back on LinkedIn.
You may also want to connect with people you know in real life. For example, you could connect with former teachers, coaches, supervisors, and co-workers. Don't forget your parents' friends and any friend's parents if they work in your field.
Networking at Live Events
While virtual networking helps you connect with people everywhere, you can also attend live networking opportunities to meet local professionals. Networking events for college students may be sponsored by your school, such as alumni meet-and-greets and career fairs. Other events, including formal networking mixers and fundraisers, may be sponsored by the local chamber of commerce or other organizations.
Before you start attending networking events, develop an "elevator pitch," which is a 30-second speech summarizing your education, primary skills, and career goals. Practice it numerous times so that you feel comfortable talking about yourself with recruiters, hiring managers, and other professionals. When you do meet someone, be polite and show your genuine interest in that person while also introducing yourself and explaining that you're job hunting.
Naturally, you want to make a good first impression on everyone you meet. Any one of them could become your future boss or co-worker. You should dress in business casual attire and bring along some professionally printed business cards with your contact information. Be sure to collect cards from those you meet so you can follow up with them later.
In-person networking can happen organically as well, especially if you look for opportunities as you go through your day. Professors, college administrators and staff, classmates, and even people at your favorite coffee store may become contacts once you've talked to them. You never know when you might meet someone who can assist you, so be prepared and be proactive whenever it's appropriate.
Maintaining Relationships and Giving Back
Of course, establishing relationships and forming new connections is only part of networking. The rest involves nurturing those relationships and giving back when you can, both of which may happen long after you've graduated from college.
Here again, LinkedIn makes it easy to keep your network updated on what you're doing, how your job search is going, and more. Keep your posts and photos professional to support the positive impression you've made. You may also want to send an occasional friendly email to select people with whom you want to build a closer relationship.
One way you can give back to your network is to post links to interesting articles and reports related to your profession or field. Since your network is in the same field, they will appreciate the professional development information you're sharing.
Someday, you may be in a position to give back by offering career advice or helping others find employment and advance their careers. In the meantime, however, focus on making meaningful connections and nurturing your network, and don't hesitate to ask for their assistance.