There’s more to college than taking a multitude of classes and getting a degree. College students have to consider the following question – what’s next for me? As you get your degree, you’ll need to consider if you want to go to graduate school or what kind of job you want after graduating or if you want to take a break to pursue your other passions. Regardless, making connections is a huge component of your college journey and post-graduation life. Meeting and talking to the right people can help you immensely, and it’s important to start as soon as possible! Here are some easy, common ways to start networking, and you can start doing these even as a freshman in college.
- Talk to your professors and other faculty members
Building relationships with your professors is so valuable. Remember that professors have been where you are and they have experience going to graduate school, working in the field, and even doing different kinds of research. If you want to learn more about graduate school or need advice about career options, ask your professors during their office hours or set up a one-on-one appointment with your professor. Not only will you get some great information, but your professors will see you as proactive (which is always a good thing if you ask them for a letter of recommendation in the future). Also, don’t be afraid to cold-email faculty members that don’t know you. Usually, they are happy to talk to interested students. Otherwise, they’ll just politely email you back saying they don’t have the time and ask you to email them at a different time (or suggest you talk to someone else).
- Visit your career center and/or academic advisors
This is a great idea when you’re starting as a freshman and need some guidance on what classes to take or how you can find internships and research. If you find that your academic advisors are helpful, you may want to stay in touch with them over your four years of college (also great for letters of recommendation).
- Attend internship and career fairs
These fairs will normally consist of representatives from certain companies/organizations. Representatives will often talk about the company’s mission and interests, current job/internship openings, and more. By talking to these representatives, you’ll learn more about the company and whether it’s a good fit for you. Most importantly, you’ll get to introduce yourself to the representatives and explain why are interested in working with the company. Some of these representatives may be active recruiters, and they’ll ask you for a resume. They may direct you to a website where you can apply for certain positions. They may note down your contact information or ask you to note down the email of someone who can further assist you.
There are different kinds of fairs, and this will often be specified when the fair is publicized. Some schools will ask you to sign up for a fair beforehand. Other fairs don’t require registration, and you can just drop in at any time. If your school gives you guidelines on what to wear and what to bring, then great – just follow that. From personal experience, it’s standard to show up in business casual attire and to bring multiple copies of your updated resume/CV. You might also want to bring a notepad to jot down any details after you’ve conversed with a representative from a company. Lastly, bring a positive attitude and be ready to talk about yourself, your previous experiences, and your goals.
You may not get much out of these fairs if you just show up and haven’t researched each company. You have to go in with a clear intention of who you want to talk to. Be proactive and make it a point to introduce yourself to each representative, even if it feels uncomfortable or nerve-wracking. With career fairs and networking in general, you only get what you put into it.
- Use emails and networking sites to your advantage
I highly recommend making an account on networking platforms like Linkedin. Take the time to develop a profile page with your relevant experiences. Connect with professionals in your field of interest. If they accept, don’t be afraid to send them a message introducing yourself and your interests. If you have a specific goal (ie, you’re looking for a summer internship, research position, shadowing), you should mention this as well. They may be able to connect you to someone that can help. Worst case, they’ll say they can’t help you, and that’s also okay. You can totally do the same thing if you’re trying to network through emails or other social media platforms.
- Stay in touch with those you meet in college clubs, internships, and jobs
Sometimes you don’t have to go out of your way to network, and this is one example of that. Simply build good relations with your peers, colleagues, and mentors. You never know – sometimes a college alumnus that was part of the same club as you will reach out with an interesting opportunity. I often stay in touch with my mentors by sending an email about my newest endeavor or just checking in with them about how things are going for me. Don’t hesitate to reach out to an old colleague or peer. Grab a cup of coffee with them and catch up on life. Staying in touch with people can go a long way.
Networking is a crucial part of your college experience, and there’s a number of ways you can go about it. These are some mainstream ways of developing connections, but there are many more not on the list. Some colleges may even hold workshops on how to network, so utilize those! By keeping these tips in mind, you’ll be on the road to achieving your professional goals.