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Networking while still in college is an essential part of developing your future career.
After all, you know what they say:
It’s not what you know, but who you know.
The question is—
How to start networking to get it right?
Well, you’re about to find out!
We reached out to college counsellors, educators, career advisors, and fresh grads to share their best networking advice.
This article will show you:
- Actionable networking tips for college students.
- The benefits of networking while still in college.
- Advice from networking experts and practitioners.
Looking for more career advice? Check out our articles:
- How to List Education on Resume
- Student Resume Template
- How to Write an Entry-Level Resume with No Experience
- Resume Profile Examples
- 500+ Best Keywords to Use in a Resume
1. Visit Your School’s Career Office
The first steps you take in your college networking efforts should lead you directly to your school’s career office doors.
Career offices collaborate with student organizations, academic departments, and employers to help students and alumni find internships and employment opportunities.
In other words, career offices’ mission is to help you connect with the right people to grow your professional career. And isn’t it exactly what you need?
University career offices will help you make informed decisions about the career choices you have, get your resume right, write a cover letter, and possibly assign you a mentor to help you out along the way.
And finally, it’s all for free as the costs are covered by your tuition fee.
Expert Hint: No time to drop by the career office? Follow our resume writing tips to get your resume in shape.
2. Join Alumni Associations
You’ve got quite a number of options—
College, grad school, honor societies. You name it.
Truth be told, you don’t really have to be an alumnus of a university to become a member, and the benefits of membership are plentiful.
Alumni associations will help you build business relations, as well as strike up new friendships with like-minded individuals—who might refer you to employers or clients.
Over the past 11 years, I've had countless clients get opportunities by joining, for example, the national Phi Beta Kappa honor society and going to an event.
So, join the groups, follow them on social media, sign up for email newsletters, and make a point of attending at least a couple of events they organize.
Expert Hint: The way you talk matters. But the way you listen to others counts twice as much. Improve your active listening skills and own any conversation.
3. Use LinkedIn and Other Social Media
First things first:
Before you start building your network of contacts, make sure to optimize your LinkedIn profile.
If you’re wondering whether or not you should build a LinkedIn profile as a student, just know that more than 200,000 college students join LinkedIn every month.
In fact, there are more than 30 million student profiles on LinkedIn already.
What better time to join LinkedIn than when still in college?
Start building your network early on to give your future career a boost.
And don’t be shy:
Many industry leaders will add any students who have the guts to add them on LinkedIn, even if they have never met you. As a student I added everybody from the Head of Ford Motor Company in my country, to the Chairman of the second largest Supermarket, to the VP of Facebook. These people were more than willing to offer some time to speak or meet with me, offer life and work tips, and even offered internship and job opportunities directly.
4. Connect With Your Professors
Reach out to the professors who inspired you.
Invite them to a meal, or try to make a phone call and ask if they'd be willing to give you any advice or introduce you to other people in their areas of expertise.
If you’re an introvert and feel more comfortable using LinkedIn for example, do so.
It’s always better to do something you don’t feel too comfortable about than be sorry for not doing it for the rest of your life.
It may turn out that your professors are also working outside of academia or have industry contacts from the past they can use to refer you.
I had an accounting professor who taught a night class while also working as a partner at a local accounting consultancy. By speaking with her, I was able to secure a job interview at a company she was acquainted with after I graduated.
Expert Hint: Thanks to connecting to your professors, you can get professional references for your resume.
5. Reach out to People You Already Know
It could be as easy as this.
Talk to your family members and friends for starters. Tell them about your career plans. It may quickly turn out that, say, your uncle knows somebody who knows somebody who can help you. Ask for an introduction to that somebody.
A sincere conversation can work wonders.
Just be sure you end these brain-picking conversations with a question about who else the uncle knows so you can begin to expand your network.
Expert Hint: Thanks to talking to your nearest and dearest you’ll discover what skills to put on your resume.
6. Get in Touch with People You Admire and Ask Them to Be Your Mentors
Students often have no idea how effective mentoring can be.
Most people love giving advice, and talking about their careers. Especially, to those who look up to them.
Having a college or grad student seek you out as an example of a professional life they would like to emulate is flattering. Most people will respond positively.
If you don’t know what career path you’d like to follow after graduating, that’s fine.
Connect with people working for the companies you’re interested in, and find out what it’s like to work there.
But do it right:
Make the outreach (email or LinkedIn) all about them, not you. Tell them how you found them and what caught your eye. But keep it short. Nobody has extra time. And if you ramble on about you and what you hope to do, people’s eyes will glaze over
Expert Hint: Once you get to know the right people, you might want to email your resume to them.
7. Inquire with Your Local Chamber of Commerce
A lot of networking opportunities may await at your local chamber of commerce.
Several local chambers of commerce host mixers, professional development workshops and other networking opportunities targeted at fresh grads and young professionals.
It’s always a good idea to look at their event calendars and check out if there’s something of interest to you.
The obvious advantage of a local chamber of commerce is that it’s... local. So, you’ll have a great opportunity to let yourself be known to local business owners even before entering the workforce.
Expert Hint: If you find an opportunity with a local business, make sure you’re a cultural fit. Learn how to put hobbies and interests on a resume.
8. Attend Local Networking Events
Just like in the previous tip—
It’s always a good idea to make yourself recognizable locally.
Many local networking events are attended by young professionals, who are sympathetic to college-aged job seekers, as well as seasoned veterans who have connections in your field.
There aren’t too many college students who think to attend professional networking events.
“This will help you be memorable and appear driven to event attendees,” Lockard adds.
How to find out about local networking opportunities?
And once you find yourself attending such an event, make a point of getting to know both the attendees and organizers.
By forming connections with the event organizers I was able to start to tap into their deeper networks without as much leg work.
And one more thing—
Remember people's names.
Probably the most important tip. If you remember someone's name it will impress them deeply.
Expert Hint: Proper introductions are never out of fashion. Learn how to address your cover letter to come across as a serious professional.
9. Join Organizations
Joining an organization whose mission and values are aligned with yours is a perfect way of building your professional network.
Ideally, if the organization comprises people from a variety of industries and backgrounds, and has a global reach.
There are plenty of global organizations out there that you can explore: SandBox, Thunderbird School of Global Management, Schusterman's Reality Network, or Remote Year, for example. I tell my students it’s vital to authentically commit to the group's mission, and hopefully find a place where they can give back, and really be part of the community. That’s how you build a network.
Expert Hint: Thanks to your membership in various organizations, you’ll have a lot of achievements to put on your resume. Don’t forget to include them!
10. Volunteer or Do an Internship
If you want to kill two birds with one stone (build a network and gain experience), volunteering, internship, or shadowing is the way to go.
In terms of expanding your network, volunteering may have the most value out of the three options.
You can always put volunteering on your resume, and—
As a volunteer, you work for free with others towards a common goal that you all deeply believe in.
If this kind of environment doesn’t naturally create bonds between people, what does?
Internships and job shadowing are also great for establishing professional connections.
And they give students real-life experiences to put on your resume, as well as help them to learn more about the industry they want to join.
11. Have a Business Card
Last but not least—
Order basic business cards.
Nothing too fancy, though. Your name, a title, professional email, and phone number will do.
Keep it simple. If you want the chance to work for someone else's brand, it's helpful to demonstrate that, first and foremost, you have the professionalism to promote your own.
Expert Hint: Can’t find any organization or networking event you’d like to take part in? Organize one yourself, and take your leadership skills to the next level.
Here’s a quick rundown of the best tips on how to network in college:
- Use your school’s career services.
- Join alumni associations.
- Connect with your professors.
- Reach out to your family and friends.
- Get in touch with people you admire.
- Use LinkedIn and other social media.
- Check out your local chamber of commerce.
- Attend local networking events.
- Join organizations.
- Volunteer, do an internship, or shadow.
- Get a simple business card.
Do you have any questions on how to network in college? Or maybe you know other tips you’d like to share? Give us a shout out in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you!