Multiple studies, as well as real world experience, repeatedly demonstrate that networking can be one of the single most powerful methods for securing a job or internship. This fact is especially true for college students who will soon be entering the job market for the first time. However, many students are not sure where to start when learning how to network. The following are six networking tips for student success that will help increase your competitive advantage and visibility in the marketplace.
Start early. Networking is about making the right connections and developing relationships of mutual trust and assistance. These are efforts that, when done right, take time, so it is never too early to get started. “The concept is to plant the seeds before you need to harvest them. By the time you’re about to graduate, it’s getting to be a little late in the day to start building those connections,” says Heather Krasna, director of career services at the University of Washington’s Evans School of Public Affairs — as quoted by Alexis Grant in the usnews.com September 2011 article “6 Ways to Network While You’re in College.” While starting as early as your freshman year is ideal, even by your senior year it is not too late to take advantage of the student networking opportunities available through your college or outside organizations.
Leverage your alumni network. One of the best methods for getting a head start on developing your network is to leverage your career resource center to get connected to your school’s alumni network. Krasna notes, “Alumni and other contacts are more likely to want to help you while you’re still a student[…]. It’s less pressure because the person is just asking for advice[…]. That means if you want to pick the brain of someone who works in the industry you want to go into or even request an informational interview, now’s the time to do it. Grow those relationships while there’s no pressure, so those contacts will want to help you when you transition to the work world.”
Join professional associations. Another important networking opportunity for college students is the use of professional associations. Most organizations host weekly or monthly meetings where individuals can learn new information pertinent to their field and have the opportunity to meet new contacts. Association websites also typically offer job search tools such as industry related job postings and a location in which to post your resume. As an added benefit, these organizations typically offer reduced student membership rates. Many organizations also offer mentoring programs that match students to tenured professionals who are eager to share their experiences and help young professionals develop their career plans. Resources such as Weddles.com or your career services department can help get you connected to an association that fits your career interests.
Participate in campus activities and clubs. During your college years, participating in campus activities and spending time with individuals who have similar interests and hobbies is a great way to meet new people while not feeling the pressure of more formalized networking activities. Shared interests and passions can lead to great conversations. You never know what connection the person next to you might have into the field or industry you are interested in pursuing.
Develop a professional online presence. One of the simplest methods for developing your network in today’s job and internship market is through the use of technology. As Emily Driscoll points out in her April 2011 FOXBusiness article, “How College Students Can Use Online Networking to Find a Job,” between social media sites such as LinkedIn and smartphone applications such as Job Finder and Job Compass, students have greater access to employers and recruiters than ever. And as she quotes in her article, according to Tony Conrad, founder of About.me, a website where users can choose which social and professional sites to feature on their profile, by taking advantage of these platforms, students “have an opportunity to interact directly with the people who are building the future of technology, entertainment and policy,” creating a “level of access that previous generations could only dream of.”
Follow-up and be proactive. Finally, like all relationships, staying connected to and cultivating your network takes time and effort. Follow up on commitments and demonstrate professional courtesy. If you offer to send information to a contact or are offered the opportunity to schedule a meeting, do it within 24 hours. After an individual provides you with assistance, send a well thought-out thank you note. These are all small efforts that speak volumes regarding your professionalism and help to keep the networking process mutually beneficial and highly effective over the long term.