Networking revolves around fostering reciprocity-based relationships. For young professionals getting their feet wet in the working world through internships and part-time jobs, networking is a great way to make career connections.
However, in a “new normal” where both professional and personal relationships have moved online, how do you strike up new working connections in a genuine way?
We have some valuable networking tips for college students that will help draw you closer to your long-term career goals.
Top Networking Tips For College Students
Just because college student networking has moved online doesn’t mean that you need to put your career goals on hold. With today’s technology, in-person events like conferences and mixers aren’t necessary to meet a future mentor.
Here are some tips for how to network in college to inspire a few new ideas.
Identify Your Networking Goals
Networking isn’t just about meeting as many new professionals at dream corporations as possible. Before diving in headfirst, take the time to list out a few of your goals and then find intersections where having an insider contact would be beneficial.
Here’s what this networking tip might look like:
- List out dream career paths and positions.
- List out target companies or examples of companies where you would ideally like to work or whose values align with yours.
- Identify which of those companies have opportunities for the target positions.
- Zero in on these specific departments to narrow down your search of who to contact for informational interviews
Map Out Your Current Network to Identify Gaps
After narrowing down which circles it makes the most sense to network in, it’s time to see who you actually know here and if further connections would be helpful.
Rack your brain and go through your LinkedIn to list out potential connections for each target area. LinkedIn will also show you the 2nd-degree connections of people who know your direct contacts. These second-hand relationships are where “warm” intros come in!
Focus on “Warm” Intros Rather Than “Cold” Intros
Nothing is more awkward than receiving a LinkedIn request from a stranger “looking to connect.” This tactic is hardly ever productive, and it could prevent you from forming genuine relationships with these individuals in the future.
A better networking tip for college students is to lean first on your existing network to see if they can introduce you to their circles. That way, your connections can vouch for you firsthand and set up a trustful foundation with the person they are introducing you to.
Leverage Your University’s Alumni Networks
When looking for a mentor figure who’s been in your shoes before, alumni networks are the way to go. Having an alma mater in common means alumni are familiar with your degree program and student organizations already. In other words, alumni will be more willing to connect with you and share their knowledge and professional circles than strangers.
Check your university’s website to find online alumni groups or local chapters to network in. You can also see if there are more casual alumni groups on social networks like Facebook to join.
Do Not Approach Networking as a Transaction
Making new connections isn’t just to get you an internship or dream job! Be very careful about approaching people by asking them to connect you with a recruiter at their company or if they can recommend you for a position.
This not only comes off as disrespectful, but it can permanently strain the relationship.
Instead, approach networking as a two-way street. Working professionals can serve as mentors in their field, and fellow students can help shed light on experiences they’ve had themselves.
Essentially, ask yourself how we can forge a relationship rather than how can this person help me.
Make LinkedIn Your New Best Networking Friend
So now you’ve got prime professionals in mind on LinkedIn, but what comes next? A safe start to strike up a conversation is to reach out requesting an information interview about the person’s position, their career path, area of expertise, company, or any number of related things.
During the conversation, ask questions like:
- What does a typical day look like in your job?
- What do you most enjoy about working there?
- Do you face any particular obstacles or challenges?
- What advice do you have for a college student seeking to pursue a career in this field or at your company?
People are usually open to sharing about their professional journeys and expertise, and its a great way to open up the conversation about how you can move forward with your own. LinkedIn provides the perfect platform to start growing a relevant network of professionals.
Through apps or sites like Meetup, you’re able to join groups that specifically include young professionals or other college students in your city. Additionally, there are numerous professionally-oriented groups to pick experts’ minds. Whether it’s a virtual webinar or group discussion, you can find a group of other like-minded people (or start your own Meetup!).
Stop By Virtual Career Fairs
Even if you are not actively searching for a job, it’s crucial to continue fostering connections. This is one of the best networking tips for college students, as it introduces you to other like-minded professionals. As networking has shifted online, so have career fairs, and you can now find several virtual career fairs for jobs. You can even look for career fairs at your university or various local community colleges to learn more and discover job openings. You’ll garner firsthand insight into what it’s like to work someplace through career fairs.
Remember to get comfortable with virtual career fairs and prepare!
Register For A Conference In Your Related Field
A virtual conference in your field of study can open your eyes to prominent industry figures and help you build a reputable network. Maybe you want to meet other professionals and gather industry insight, or garner expertise from leaders in your field. Either way, you will likely leave the conference filled with fresh knowledge and key connections. Bring along plenty of business cards, and try not to be shy — strike up a few conversations at the event.
Conferences understand the importance of networking as a part of the event, so even virtual ones will have options to meet in breakout sessions to foster introductions.
Other General Networking Tips For College Students
- Once you’ve built a sizeable network targeting a particular company or field, cast a wider net after that. Besides adding relevant LinkedIn members, test some different ideas. Have you touched base with community leaders, former teachers/college professors, or even parents of friends who have connections? Perhaps you also have extended family who can offer useful networking connections and advice.
- Stay polished. Besides dressing professionally when meeting new people (even on video calls!), maintain a positive reputation both online and offline. Check over your social media accounts. Look well put-together for virtual meetings. Always remain enthusiastic and polite at potentially drawn-out conferences and events. Proofread every single word of every email and LinkedIn message you send.
- Say “yes” more often, because your networking opportunities can only expand this way. If you’re an introvert, try to put yourself out there at events. It’s important to get accustomed to talking to strangers at business events, and good things come of it!
- Ask questions. In addition to getting what you want out of someone new in your professional circle, networking for college students is also crucial to create a meaningful, reciprocating relationship. For a more comfortable situation, ask new connections questions about themselves — not just work. Always be inquisitive, as it’ll take you far.
- Follow any experts you admire relevant to your field — on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, on their blogs, through email digests, and so forth.
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