College Networking 101: Professors, Events, & LinkedIn
This post is part of a series. We recommend reading Why You Should Jumpstart Your Career Search in College prior to this post!
The relationships you form in college are the foundation for your career after graduation. From professors to organization and internship supervisors, you will meet plenty of influential people who have the capacity to help you later in life, but it’s up to you to utilize these relationships to your advantage. Today, we’re discussing the ins and outs of college networking.
If you’ve never thought about the concept of networking before, don’t be afraid; you’ve been doing it your whole life and don’t even know it! By definition, the process of networking is simply interacting with others to exchange information, which you do in the majority of your conversations. College networking in particular becomes helpful when your interactions form professional and social contracts with others whom you respect. We recommend you make these connections as early as possible.
One of the easiest ways to engage in college networking is to actually talk to your professors! There are plenty of reasons why you should utilize a professor’s office hours, but one of the most valuable reasons is that it allows you to get to know them, and them to know you. By forming this bond, they will be motivated to help you out—not only in class, but later in life as well. You may also find that they could have you participate in one of their current projects. Because professors often do research in addition to teaching classes, you might get the chance to assist them, which results in both a great-looking credential on your résumé as well as a stronger bond between the two of you.
Getting involved on campus is another great way to expand your network as an undergrad. Why limit yourself to the professors of your classes when you can meet and learn from plenty of others? In most cases, registered organizations and groups are sponsored by faculty advisors, all of whom are expressing an interest in getting to know their school’s highly involved and motivated students. What’s more, the friends you make in these organizations are also going to be valid professional connections beyond college as well. Here are a few examples of common organizations that can help you grow your network:
- Academic Clubs: Most colleges have a club or society that corresponds with every major and area of study. These are great opportunities to connect with other students in the same major and attend networking events with professionals from related industries.
- Pre-Professional Clubs: Similar to academic clubs, these organizations are for students who are passionate about a career in a specific field. In preparation for advanced careers, these clubs often host or organize great guest lecturers and informational events.
- Honor Societies: Aside from connecting you with fellow ambitious students, an honor society can come with great opportunities to volunteer and attend networking events.
- Media & Publication Groups: Every school is likely to have a student newspaper. In fact, most schools have multiple student-run publications. These are great for students interested in pursuing a career in media or journalism.
- Service-Based Organizations: Prominent members of the community often team up with on-campus service groups, so these groups offer a great way to meet people while simultaneously giving back to the community.
Your school is bound to help you make connections through networking events with alumni. These can range from job fairs and information sessions to speaker presentations. Meeting professionals at these events gets you in touch with contacts in your desired industry. When you introduce yourself, convey that you are ambitious and eager by offering your thoughts on the speaker, asking intelligent questions about their profession, or talking about your professional goals. Seeing that you are a driven individual, people will be happy to help you in any way that they can. Better yet, you already share a common bond with the alumni who participate; it’s only natural for a professional to provide extra support for someone who attends their own alma mater! Personally, I’ve had success interacting with industry professionals by attending guest lecturers on my campus and asking questions at panels. Learning from people in the industry gave me more clarity on what I actually wanted to do for my career. Here are some other options for college networking on campus:
- Guest Speakers: Guest lecturers offer an inside scoop into the industry. Often times, these speakers are friends with a professor, yet they took the corporate route instead of academia.
- Industry Panels: Most schools host panels or information sessions for students to hear testimonials from industry professionals.
- Lunch and Learn: Lunch and Learn events are those at which representatives from companies come to campus to talk to students about what they do, usually while offering refreshments. The addition of food is meant to make it more casual and less intimidating for students.
- Career Fair: Considered the holy grail of college networking, career fairs are the ideal place to mix and mingle with industry professionals. Remember to take plenty of résumés and get contact information so you can follow up with your new connections!
The networking superpower of the 21st century: LinkedIn. LinkedIn was founded in 2002 and has been changing the way people network ever since. If you’re not familiar with the service, you should definitely become acquainted and make an account. With 660 million users, it’s no surprise that the majority of companies now advertise their positions and recruit all from LinkedIn; it’s a one-stop shop for finding new talent. Even big-name companies like Nike, Coca-Cola, and Google are searching for new hires on LinkedIn. Your profile is your space to showcase all your attributes: the “About” section shows off your personality, “Work Experience” allows you to detail your past jobs, and “Skills” give past employers and colleagues the ability to endorse you on your credentials. After speaking with professors or talking to a guest lecturer, you can add them on LinkedIn to solidify your relationship and create an avenue through which it can be maintained. It also provides an easy route to contact that person later on when you are hoping to be hired.
Starting the college networking process early is one of the best ways to avoid a postgraduate job-search freak out. It’s crucial to cultivate relationships with professors and industry professionals which, as you become a master of LinkedIn, is a surefire way to continue networking long after college. Stay tuned for my next article, “How to Curate the Perfect LinkedIn Profile,” for more LinkedIn tips and tricks.