Networking 101: Tips for College Students
“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”
A diverse network is an integral part of a plan to achieve personal and professional goals.
“But I’m just a freshman!” you might say. At this point, you may not even know what your personal and professional goals are, and that’s okay. Networking is a skill, and your first years of college are the best time to start honing it. And it’s the kind of skill that is required regardless of your major or your intended career field. If you want to get a job as a teacher, you’ll need a network. If you want to be an accountant, you’ll need a network. Real estate agent? Network. Marketing director? Attorney? Scientist? Network. Network. Network.
Unfortunately, networking isn’t a hard skill you can learn in the classroom. You’ll have to build that skill through practice, strategy, and friendly conversation. Here are some networking tips:
Focus on relationships.
Networking sounds like a fancy MBA buzz word, but what it really means is building meaningful relationships with people. It’s that simple. Relationships can be built through study groups, over coffee after class, or in the student center. Get out there and engage with the people around you in a variety of settings. You’ll be glad you did!
Be open to possibilities.
Networking with a laser focus can lead to missed opportunities. If you say you’re only going to build relationships with people in your industry, you’ll close yourself off to possibilities. Every person you meet has their own network of professionals from a variety of industries. Who knows – your dance teacher, barista, or professor could introduce you to a relative, friend, neighbor, or classmate who could help you land your first job!
Be genuinely curious.
Being genuinely curious about people can help you discover connections you didn’t know you had. When you ask questions about a person’s life, family, background, or aspirations, and truly listen to the answers, you can find common ground on which to build a relationship. You could ask someone where they’re from. If they respond with a place you’ve never heard of, that might be a closed door. Move on to the next door: ask about their family or their hobbies. Master the art of small talk until you find an open door. Your common ground can help ignite a relationship.
Get involved on campus.
Visit your school’s student activities office to learn about all the events and clubs available on campus. Maybe club sports would interest you? Or perhaps you’re passionate about a cause? How about campus leadership opportunities like student government? The more activities you get involved with, the more people you’ll meet.
Once you join the club or attend the event, you’ll meet many new people. Square your shoulders, take a deep breath, walk up to at least one person and introduce yourself. You may make a lifelong friend. Yes, it can be intimidating. But the more you do it, the more comfortable you’ll become. Your future boss will be impressed with your confidence.
Manage your online brand.
More and more, we live our lives online. How many times do you go home and do an internet search on someone you just met? If you do that, so do the people who just met you. The question is, “What will they find?” Before you post, consider this: CareerBuilder found that more than 70% of recruiters used social media to screen job candidates. That’s not to say social media is all bad. In fact, it can be a very useful tool if you use it wisely. Nearly 40 million college students have a profile on LinkedIn for a reason. Your online network can be just as important to your future and your goals as your personal network.
The training you receive in a college or university classroom can have an enormous impact on your professional success. But the skills you build outside the classroom can be just as important. Networking is one of those skills. If you start now by intentionally forming relationships with a variety of people, being truly curious about the people you meet, and getting comfortable introducing yourself to strangers, you may find that you start your career on third base while everyone else is still trying to get out of the dugout.