There’s a myth going around that networking is a necessary evil. Someone told college students that it’s hard to connect with employers/professors/random strangers working in their desired field. Getting into events is expensive, and even if you get in, there’s no guarantee that you’ll talk to the right people.
Let’s disprove those lies right now.
The most important part of networking is talking. That’s all there is to it. Everything else is supplemental. And starting a conversation can be easy! If a speaker comes to your lecture, don’t run out the second class ends. Stick around and talk to the speaker: ask them about a specific remark they made, comment on how you agree with their perspective, ask for an informational interview in the future because you’re interested in their field. Just. Talk. To. Them. It’s so easy to make a connection with anyone around you—all you need to do muster up some courage and start talking.
Have your info ready
Once you feel you’ve made a good connection, you should ideally exchange information, and a business card makes that so much easier.
Get a business card ASAP. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, and it’s okay if you don’t have a job title yet. All you need is a simple (cheap) card from VistaPrint or one you print out yourself that says your name, your major, and a bit of contact info (i.e., e-mail address, phone number, social media handles, etc.). If you have a website, all the better, but you likely won’t need one until at least junior year. If you’re a graphic designer, you should absolutely create your own design, because it’s the easiest way to showcase your talent upfront.
Pro-tip: if you leave the back blank, you can write additional information on it. For example, if you’re recommending a conference, book, or website someone should look into, you can jot it down on the back. Additionally, this connects you to that recommendation, so they may reach out to you later to discuss it.
Do not forget this tip. If you talk to someone you hope to continue networking with, e-mail them within 48 hours to follow up. If you wait too long, you run the risk of them forgetting the conversation, and that’s a situation you don’t want to be in. It doesn’t have to be complicated, just a note that says:
It was a pleasure to meet you at [event name]. I really enjoyed talking to you about [something you talked about].”
A follow-up will further establish your connection, and you need to make sure you stay on top of it, especially if you talked about any sort of opportunity, like an informational interview or internship.
And don’t stop there with follow-ups. Continue to connect whether by following them on social media, interacting through “Likes” and “Retweets,” sending e-mails just to check in, or stopping to chat with them again at future events. Just a simple, “How have you been?/How’s the dog?” is all you need.
Related: What Not to Do When Networking
Know where to network
Yes, all that’s well and good, but where do you network? The answer: everywhere.
It doesn’t have to be some fancy event that you paid over $100 to attend. You can network at the grocery store when you see someone sporting a tote bag from your school. Or go to a free event in your area relative to one of your interests (poetry/Moth readings, or events at the public library). Your college may also provide networking opportunities to you such as alumni events or internship and job fairs. Check with your school’s career services office for events available to you.
Set realistic expectations
Don’t go into a networking opportunity assuming that you’ll walk away with everything you’ve ever wanted. You could talk to the CEO of a major company and walk away without any new knowledge and a dead connection. Or you could talk to someone who works part time at a local nonprofit and get a lead on an internship or two. You could even talk to someone with no relation to your interests, but they have a friend you should definitely meet and they’ll pass your information along to them. Go into networking opportunities with an open mind and no agenda. You’ll get more out of these connections if you don’t try to force a specific outcome.
Finally, don’t forget that networking isn’t just about furthering your career. You can network strictly to meet interesting people, especially since you might end up being the person they need the connection from, whether it’s recommending someone to fill a position you aren’t qualified for (but your friend is!) or the person who shows them how to use Twitter successfully. Sometimes all you walk away with is a new friend, and that’s just fine.
It’s true that networking is necessary, especially as you get further into your college career and start looking for internships, volunteer or research opportunities, and (shout out to the seniors) careers. But it’s far from evil. You’re talking about things you’re interested in with like-minded people. Now that’s fun!