As college students, we’re constantly told about the importance of getting to know people in our field. These people are ultimately the ones recommending us to others, or helping us get that job opportunity we’ve always wanted. We slowly start building a web of people we know that share our skill sets and interests. This is called “networking”. You’ve probably heard about this term before, but if you’re reading this article, it’s probably because you just don’t know where to start.
First things first: you can’t just throw yourself into the world of networking and expect things to go just how you’ve always planned. You must equip yourself beforehand with the necessary tools to be able to show others what you can offer. In my opinion, one of the things you should always have in hand is multiple copies of your resume and/or CV. These pages of information will include everything you’ve been a part of, all the certifications you have and all of the things you’ve accomplished, etc. It’ll help others get to know you and where your interests lie.
The next thing you should do is go get yourself some good business attire. It’ll come in handy in interviews or in other possible networking events.
Another great way to connect with more people in a relatively short time is to set up a LinkedIn profile and have a professional social media presence. This way people can just search your name online and be in the loop about what you’re currently doing.
Last but not least, as part of your preparation, you should decide what it is that you want to get out of your networking encounters, and what you seek to accomplish professionally. This will make it easier to strategize methods to do so.
- Organization is key.
In order to stay on top of everything, staying organized is the way to go. Never underestimate the power of writing everything down. I, for one, can’t go anywhere without my planner. With all the things I have to do and all the important dates I have to remember, it’s a no-brainer. So, my advice is to save yourself the hassle and just get yourself one. Another little (or big) book you should buy is a journal, to use for keeping track of your daily to-do’s and record every work-related milestone. You can also store all the important contact info of people you meet.
- Get out there
Something you must absolutely\ do as part of your networking journey is participating in as many activities as possible, where you’ll be able to meet people with more experience in the field you’re interested in. These activities can be conferences, seminars, exhibitions, student organizations, university events, etc. The more specific they are to what you like, the better.
Speaking of which, it’s always a great idea to participate in student organization activities too! Sometimes they’ll invite professionals over to talk about their own experiences and how they’ve grown throughout the course of their career. Chances are, these events will serve as valuable learning opportunities that will assist you in acquiring possible connections with mentors in your field of interest.
Apart from joining student organizations, something you can also do on campus is be on the lookout for flyers announcing any special activities you can attend where you could possibly meet new people and make important social connections.
Lastly, for this step, if push comes to shove, talk to your professors. They often have PhD’s in the subjects you’re majoring in, so who better to talk to about your interests than them? Also, by being “experts” in their fields, they may know a lot of colleagues who work in the field too. So they can always end up connecting you with other people as well.
- Be willing to help others
This is a very important step in networking that is often overlooked. Once you get help from others, make an effor to help them in return. This can be as simple as revising their personal statements, or help them write an essay they have to hand in for a possible internship. If it’s someone higher up in the field, you can volunteer to help them with any projects they have. Try to always be available to lend a helping hand because you never know, those people might be the ones that end up writing your recommendation letters.
- Don’t overdo it
When you’re trying to reach out to possible mentors or when you’re trying to apply to internships or jobs, be wary of spreading yourself too thin. Overcommitting to a lot of people and a lot of jobs at the same time will only lead to a disaster. You’re either going to excel at all of your tasks, but suffer from extreme burnout, or in turn retain your sanity but disappoint others in the process. The way to go is to slowly take things one step at a time. Test the waters, and progressively add things onto your plate if you feel like you can handle it.
- Follow up with people
Last, but definitely not least, always follow up with people after encounters. Thank them for their input and show them that you would be interested in keeping in touch with them. Further down the line, you could even ask them if they would consider you for a job, or if they could recommend you to one of their colleagues. In networking, it’s really important to always keep the door open. You never know what might happen.
Now you know a little bit more about how to start your networking process. Remember to not sweat it, just stay organized, have a plan, and be charismatic about it. Meet new people, learn more information, and be open to new opportunities. Good luck!