In college you hear all about how “networking” is essential to landing a job. But what does networking really mean, and how should you do it? Here are 11 helpful tips for college students new to the networking game.
Believe it or not, you probably have some practice networking already. Has your neighbor ever hired you for a babysitting gig? Have you helped your friend get a job at the supermarket where you work? That’s what networking looks like.
Most people find their jobs through people they know, aka networking. If you want to find a job after college, you’ll have to practice doing it. Here’s how.
- Try to relax—networking doesn’t have to be scary. “Networking is making new friends,” says Ashley G. Scott, a communications consultant who often works with young adults. “You want to know what their likes and dislikes are, what you have in common.” Networking is really about building genuine relationships with people and helping them when you can.
- Keep a “networking mindset.” Examine what you’re good at and what your weaknesses are. Then look for ways you can assist other people and how others can guide you. “A networking mindset means you’re open to asking for help, and you’re open to receiving help,” Scott says.
- Practice at the career center. Your college’s career services office will bring alumni to campus to meet students like you. It will also organize job fairs where you can meet employers. Go to these events, along with workshops on topics like how to act at a business dinner.
- Join LinkedIn. You’ve probably heard of LinkedIn, the biggest professional social networking website. Build a profile on LinkedIn if you haven’t already—you don’t have to wait until you graduate college! Browsing the site can show you who knows whom and how people’s careers have progressed.
- Talk to your parents, your parents’ friends, and your friends’ parents. You already have a network of people your age. You also have parents, aunts, and uncles (and so do your friends). Chances are that at least one of them is connected to an industry you want to explore. “If they are in a field you are interested in, ask for a courtesy interview,” business consultant Hank Blank writes in a blog post. (FYI, courtesy interviews are a bit like informational interviews.) “Trust me, they will be eager to help.”
- Find events where professionals will be. There are professional groups for any career you can imagine. They all host conferences and social events that may even be open to students. And Blank says events that aren’t designed for students will give you more chances to connect with people who could actually help you land a job.
- Research people before you meet them. If your college career center is hosting a networking event, it will probably list who is planning to come. Look online to learn about different companies so you’re more informed when you meet people who work there.
- Decide what you want help with. When you network “you’re having a conversation with a goal in mind,” Scott says. What are you hoping to get out of your professional network? Do you want to meet a software developer? Do you want information on a summer internship in publishing? Remember what you want to ask professionals when you meet them.
- Ask for a business card. You want to keep in touch with people you meet. You could even make your own business card to exchange. (You can find free or cheap business card services online, or in a pinch you can print your own if you have a printer and super high-quality paper or a business card kit.)
- Send people to your personal website/online portfolio. If don’t have one already, make a website (like a “yourname.com” or “yourname.me”) where you can keep simple résumé, examples of your work, and/or blog. It’s a helpful thing to point people to when you’re networking, and it’s a great way to build a professional online presence as a college student. (Don’t worry, there are more free and easy-to-use website making services these days than you can shake a stick at!) And don’t forget to include your website URL on your business card if you make one.
- Keep in touch. All relationships build over time. Nurture your network by e-mailing professionals you meet. It doesn’t have to be a long message, Scott says. Just say you were glad to meet the other person and reference something you talked about. Mention that you’d love to meet their friend who works in pharmaceutical research, or wish them well on their upcoming conference presentation. And thank them for their time and any help they’ve already given you.
One LinkedIn survey showed that 85% of people who get new jobs found them through networking, so it’s an important skill to practice in college. Build your network and navigate toward your dream job!
So, college students, how are you using networking in your job search? Do you have any tips you’d like to share? Leave a comment or let us know.