Networking in College Can Be a Game Changer

It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.

Life as a college student is all about WHAT you know: homework, exams, research projects, essays and the grades that come with them. But if you burry your head in your books for four years, you’ll miss a very valuable lesson: networking in college.

Networking: Connecting with others to develop professional or social relationships.

Think of this as being book smart (through studying) vs. street smart (through networking), both of which are extremely beneficial to your life as a career professional after graduation.

Benefits of Networking in College

Why should you worry about networking in college? In the “real world,” you’ll learn quickly networking will allow you to:

  • Find jobs before they’re even posted publicly
  • Stay up-to-date on the latest industry news
  • Collaborate with peers on group projects

How to Network Effectively

A recent study from Jobvite found 35% of people landed their current jobs after someone in their network referred them to the open position.

Start with trial and error: Networking in college and beyond is a skill you’ll learn to use over time. Some people are more natural at learning to network than others (extroverts vs. introverts), but everyone can benefit from more practice at networking. Working on your networking skills in college will benefit you down the road. After all, some of us learn more from our mistakes rather than our successes.

Visit career services at school: Your college almost certainly has a career services office as a student resource. Often times, this office can put you in contact with alumni who are willing to serve as mentors or to help with job searches and networking ideas. This service is easier to use when you’re in school and on campus regularly, rather than after you’ve graduated.

Speak up in class: Part of learning how to network is being brave enough to reach out to people. One way to learn how to be more confident speaking to strangers is by forcing yourself to speak up in class. Answer the professor’s questions. Ask your own questions. (By the way, the professor will notice you with this kind of class participation, potentially leading to another networking opportunity and connection on LinkedIn.)

Use social media: No, this doesn’t mean getting 20,000 likes on your Instagram post. Social media is a great tool to work on your networking skills. Your friends on Instagram might not help you land a job (at least not yet), but you can sharpen your skills by making connections with others on professional platforms like LinkedIn. This is a great time to clean up your social media too. If there are some not-so-professional photos, tweets or status updates, that you posted in the past or a friend tagged you in, now is the time to remove them (putting your accounts on private might save you some time but might not save your job).

Take advantage of meeting people: It can seem a bit exhausting to make time for personal, face-to-face conversations. Sending a quick text or replying to someone’s Instagram story seems easier than to make plans to meet up for coffee or dinner. Social media connections are important for networking, but so are face-to-face conversations. If you have a chance to meet up with people at a school or local event, do it. Practicing how to engage with people and ask thoughtful questions will pay off when you enter the professional world. People will remember how you made them feel.

Learn how to listen: As you’re making in-person connections, it’s beneficial to learn how to listen. Remember to ask about their professional lives and areas of study, then pay attention as they answer. People appreciate someone who is willing to listen without checking their phone every few seconds. Carry your end of the conversation too, but always be willing to listen.

Take notes: You may want to take notes on the people you meet face to face, helping you remember details about them when you follow up later. Just remember to ask them for permission– not everyone will appreciate you taking notes in front of them and some people might even find it distracting or rude. Try to write down (physically or mentally) three things you learned about them and bring one up the next time you meet (where they went to college, how many children they have, if they had plans to travel, etc.).

Don’t forget to follow-up: If you talked about a class project or assignment with a professional in your major or mentor and they showed interest, let them know you’ll send them an update at a later time and schedule another face-to-face conversation. Don’t leave a conversation with no plan to follow-up. Also, set yourself apart from other students by following up these one-on-one conversations with a handwritten note. People will appreciate you taking the time to write a thoughtful note and will be eager to schedule another meet-up with you.

So Where Can I Build My Network?

You may have already gotten started without even knowing it, but there’s more you can do.

  • Sign up for LinkedIn: Using LinkedIn is a great way to start networking in college, especially for connecting with professionals in your desired field of work and with people not on campus.
  • Work as an intern: With the right internship opportunity, you can learn a lot about networking. You can connect with people and carry those connections with you after you finish school. Your coworkers may be willing to teach you what they know about networking too.
  • Get involved on campus: There are many organizations and societies on campus that are always looking for new members and volunteers. Find a few groups that fit your personality and your potential field of study. You’ll meet fellow students and adult professionals, all of whom are potential networking contacts. Most on-campus opportunities invite guest speakers to present at meetings and share their real-world experiences. This is another great addition to your LinkedIn profile. Add all your volunteer experience to your profile and include a short description of the organization.
  • Stay in touch: Occasionally, reach out to people who are part of your network. Share something you’ve accomplished or just ask them for an update on how they’re doing. LinkedIn is a great way to check in with old contacts and share professional updates.

It’s never too early to start networking in college. After all, networking is the process of learning how to communicate with people and make personal connections. College is the perfect time to learn new skills for your major but also learn how to work with others.

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