Building a strong professional network is vital to learning about various opportunities in your field of interest, widening your perspective and knowledge about that field, gaining career mentors and sponsors, and opening up doors for potential job offers post graduation.
LinkedIn is a great resource for connecting with professionals in the industry or industries you want to pursue a career in. If there is a particular company, organization, agency or firm that you want to work for post graduation, search them on LinkedIn. When you pull up their profile, LinkedIn will provide a list of VT alumni that work for that company, organization, agency or firm. Click on their profiles and send them a message via LinkedIn asking to chat with them over the phone for around 15-20 minutes of their time regarding their experience in that industry and in their current position. More times than not, VT alumni are open to talking with current students and/or connect them with recruiters at their company, organization, agency or firm.
- Join Professional Organizations
Professional organizations come with a network of their own consisting of alumni and current members from other regions, universities, etc. Membership can be based on GPA, major, and/or paid dues. From personal experience, the investment is definitely worth it. I am a member of the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) Virginia Tech chapter. The people I have connected with alongside the resources I have access to have been such a blessing. As a PR major, this organization gives me the opportunity to cultivate skill sets crucial for my field, gain real world experience, and learn from professionals and peers. Here are some professional organizations here at Virginia Tech:
- Collegiate Women In Business
- Public Relations Student Society of America
- The Women’s Network
- American Chemical Society Student Affiliates
- American Institute of Architecture Students
- American Marketing Association
- American Medical Student Association Pre-Medical Chapter
- Association for Women in Computing
- Association for Women in Mathematics
- Association of Property Management
More information about professional organizations offered here at Virginia Tech can be located on GobblerConnect.
- Talk To Family Members
It can be surprising how far you can go by simply reaching out to aunts, uncles, and/or cousins. Keep in mind that even if your family member is not directly in the field or industry you are interested in, they still may have colleagues, friends, and/or associates that are. This is a great way to expand your network because family members are usually the most likely to be eager and willing to talk with us.
- Attend Professors’ Office Hours
Office hours are not only beneficial if you are struggling in a class. They are valuable opportunities to get to connect with and learn from our professors, especially professors within our field of study. Scheduling a meeting with your professors allows you to ask them about their experiences in your field, their professional network, career advice they have accumulated over the years, and any opportunities to work with them on research.
- Attend Industry Events, Career Fairs, And Networking Socials
Events focused around the professional world are valuable opportunities to get your name out to recruiters and potential future associates. An example of an industry event would be a conference for professionals and aspiring professionals in your field. ICON is an annual public relations conference that is hosted by Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) that features keynote speakers and networking opportunities. While you may head into career fairs with the intention of landing an internship or job, keep in mind the networking opportunities there available through conversation and follow-up emails. Networking socials are oftentimes offered through professional organizations or may be hosted by your specific college or school.
Do not put unnecessary pressure on yourself when it comes to growing your professional network. Remember that building authentic connections take time, even when it comes to the professional world. Entering into expanding your networking with a rushed and transactional mindset can leave a sour taste in the mouths of those you will be interacting with. Remain calm and confident in what you bring to the table in conversation about your field of study and always look for ways to grow and gather more information through these interactions with professionals. We are all on this journey together.