As the old saying goes: it isn’t always about what you know, but who you know. That’s why networking, cultivating productive relationships for employment or business purposes, has become such an important practice for working professionals in today’s world. Now more than ever, it’s important to build a solid network in order to open yourself to a wide array of career opportunities – especially if you’re still in college.
While it’s easy to get caught up in a web of final exams, term papers, club meetings, tailgates and everything else that comes with being a college student, it’s important to also be intentional about building your network while you’re still in school. “Networking happens in many different ways, in many different places with many different types of individuals,” Career Services Acting Associate Director Yisell Cirion said.
Here are five things you need to know about networking while you are still in school:
- Networking isn’t just about making connections but maintaining them, too.
Many people make the mistake of thinking that good networking means meeting a lot of people and that’s it. The truth is good networking happens after the initial meeting and intentionally reaching out and checking up on the contacts you’ve made in your field.
Make an effort to check in with some of the contacts in your network often or at least once every six months or during the semester. Send an email. Grab coffee or lunch. Make sure you are working at developing relationships with the people in your network.
- Don’t wait until you graduate to build your network; start while you’re still taking classes.
If you’re waiting to graduate before actively building your network, you’re waiting too long. The best time to establish your network is while you are still taking courses. There are plenty of chances to start networking while you are still in school.
Your professors often have experience in the industries you may want to one day have a career in. They can provide you with wisdom, guidance and even set up introductions that could lead to a job in the future. “Professors are often an untapped resource for students. They are knowledgeable and often have had successful careers in the fields that their students want to get into,” Cirion said. “They want to share their knowledge but students are not asking them the right questions. Stay in touch and keep them up-to-date with your progress and where you are.” The internships you apply for, the clubs and organizations you are involved with on campus and special events you attend on campus give you great opportunities to network as you work to earn your degree.
- Don’t limit your network to professionals within your field.
Another misconception people make is limiting their network to people in their own industry. If you are majoring in marketing or advertising, for example, don’t just network with marketing professionals or advertisers. Make some contacts with careers in sports, healthcare, hospitality, and tourism management and other industries that have a need for marketing. You never know what doors might open up when you broaden your reach.
- Networking happens in unlikely places and in unlikely ways. Always be prepared.
Networking doesn’t just happen at a career fair or conference. It could happen anywhere – even as you walk the hallways of the Graham Center or take an elevator to get to your next class. Because of this, start thinking about crafting your own elevator pitch – the 30-second speech that sums up who you are, what you do and what type of job you’re hoping to land. You never know when you might need to make a case for yourself. “You have to always be prepared for potential opportunities when they come up,” Cirion said.
- Be mindful of your online/social media presence and in-person behavior.
Think potential employers are not checking your Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles? Think again. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, 77 percent of employers now use social networking to recruit candidates.
“Students have to ask themselves what message their social media profiles are saying about them because that could be the message they are sending to potential employers,” Cirion said. “It’s very important to effectively manage your social media presence.” With this in mind, always be careful about what you post on your social media profiles. You don’t want to sabotage your prospects for your potential dream job because of a photo or status you probably shouldn’t have shared with the world. Also, make sure to have a LinkedIn profile that is up-to-date with your latest information and achievements.