One of the things I hear most often from students who are graduating is that they fear their network is limited to their peers. However, it doesn’t have to be hard to grow your network as a student.
If you’re in college, it’s true that your network is predominantly made up of your peers, but your network is bigger than you think.
What is networking and why is it important?
It means meeting and developing relationships with people who have a range of skills, jobs, and interests in order to improve both your life and theirs. Simply, networking expands your influence without you having to be in the room.
Say, for example, your roommate meets a lawyer who is looking for an intern. We’ll say that your roommate isn’t looking for an internship, but you are. Your roommate is part of your network and when they connect you to that lawyer, that’s networking in action. See how important it is? It can help you get a foot in the door for jobs and internships, and help you meet people you wouldn’t have met otherwise.
You may be thinking to yourself, networking sounds like it takes time or, where can I meet people that might actually matter in my career?
Don’t worry—it’s easier than you think!
First, realize that your professors are one of the strongest parts of your network right now. They are usually highly regarded in their field and have years of experience in which they have built expansive networks. So how can you network with your professors?
– Treat class a little bit more professionally. No, you don’t have to wear slacks every day however, being nice to your teachers, showing up on time, and doing your homework can go a long way to making a good impression.
– If you have a guest lecturer or speaker, make a point of thanking them and your professor for having them in class. You never know when someone may re-enter your life!
– You don’t have to hang on your professor’s every word, but have awareness of what your resting face looks like and try to smile occasionally. A small smile or nod works wonders on showing your professor that you’re willing and engaged.
It’s important to know, as a college student, what resources are available to help you build your network and find a good career. The Career Services Center at your school has resources to help you find jobs, internships, and volunteer opportunities to beef up your resume. Many of them also have resources that will help you build your LinkedIn profile, craft a strong resume, and prepare for job interviews.
If you have the opportunity, going to job fairs is another great way to expand your network. Job fairs often happen on college campuses, which make them easy to get to, and your Career Services Center will often have it scheduled months in advance. When you go, use this checklist to make sure you have everything you need:
– Dress nicely. Wear either a pair of slacks and a nice shirt or a dress. Giving a great first impression is important!
– Bring a notebook and a pen to write down information about jobs or internships being advertised
– Bring resumes you can give to potential employers or internship sites
– If you have business cards, bring them!
– Whether or not you have business cards, bring an envelope to collect business cards you receive from other people (and then be sure to follow up and thank the people you met or invite them to connect on LinkedIn).
Growing your network can seem intimidating, especially to students who haven’t done it before. Don’t be afraid to go outside your comfort zone. It’s easier to start slowly and grow your network at a steady pace than it is to create something out of nothing after you graduate. You can start today to grow your network as a student by just paying attention and being involved.