Networking serves a wide range of purpose, not only for the active job seeker, but throughout your career. Early on, networking can build connections, introduce new opportunities and let others know that you are pursuing a position in your field. Later, networking is an essential part of growing your practice, establishing your brand and reputation, and creating relationships that facilitate trust and credibility. Maintaining a strong network is beneficial even once you have developed a successful career. To remain competitive and sustain a meaningful position in your field, visibility is important. It is never too early to begin networking, and practicing these skills will lend to future success as you take the next steps towards fulfilling your professional goals.
What is networking?
For most of us, networking comes naturally. Chances are, you are already practicing this skill regularly, even if you are not aware of it. Being part of a study group to review for an upcoming exam, making travel arrangements with friends, or meeting with your college advisor are examples of ways that you may already be actively networking. Simply put, networking is building or nurturing relationships that will help you to achieve a goal. Professional networking focuses on career related relationships and interests.
Taking initiative to broaden your professional network as soon as possible, even during college, will make your transition from the classroom to a career that much easier. Here are 5 networking tips for college students and recent graduates:
- Conduct informational interviews. Identify established professionals in your field and ask to set up an exploratory interview. Not only does give you the opportunity to learn more about your future career, it also gives you a chance to create a relationship and allows you to experience interviewing without the pressure of expecting employment. Many professionals are willing to assist educational goals.
- Become an intern. This one action can be largely instrumental in gaining work experience, making connections and will look great on a résumé. As an intern, you also have instructional guidance available to assist with placement. Also, while receiving on the job training, others are likely to show students patience and create an open learning environment.
- Carry a business card, even if you aren’t in business yet. Having a card with preprinted information, including your name, phone number and email address will come in handy when introducing yourself to potential professional contacts. It also makes it easy to “swap cards” so not only will you have their information, they also have yours should they wish to make future contact.
- Attend networking events away from campus. Get in touch with the Chamber of Commerce to inquire about local events such as luncheons, meet and greets, and after hours socials. Ask friends (or your parents friends) in the industry to let you know about upcoming events. Sign up for emails through professional groups. Find out if the library hosts workshops or brown bag lunches featuring a guest speaker. You can also check events listed in local newspapers.
- Create a professional social media network. LinkedIn now has added options for students, including job and internship matching, student profile tools, and helpful networking connection suggestions. Additionally, building your profile creates an easy way to transfer your information when constructing a resume. Not only will you have the opportunity to connect with professionals in your field from all over, you can also make connections with other like-minded students, and join like-minded groups that keep you informed of the latest news in your industry, shed light on relevant issues, and allow you to be a part of discussion boards. The site has recently added several extras that are accessible to users such as online skill-building courses, a freelance market, and more. While other forms of social media are generally accepted as more personal platforms, it is a good idea to adjust your privacy settings accordingly if yours contains more than you would prefer to reveal to potential employers, co-workers or other professional connections.
Students who broaden their network and begin honing these skills early will have more opportunities available, and feel more comfortable using what they learn as they transition into their careers.