When Cassie, a public relations and advertising major at The University of Tampa, started school, she felt lost. Unsure about what to major in, let alone what to do after graduation, Cassie didn't give up hope: instead, she buckled down and came up with a plan.
“I had no idea what I wanted to do," Cassie recalls, "So I made it my goal to explore and talk to people in different industries and that helped me narrow things down, and also see how various interests can fit into a career. I took something away even if I knew their career path wasn’t for me.”
After committing to her plan to meet (and learn from!) as many folks as possible, Cassie got down to business. She began reaching out to people with jobs that interested her to arrange coffee chats. Soon, she'd amassed dozens of professional contacts who shared more about their roles, industries, and academic backgrounds, which ultimately helped Cassie decide on her areas of study.
To keep her network healthy, Cassie was strategic about how to stay in touch and recall specific details about her conversations. “I made a spreadsheet with the name and business of the person I talked to, plus notes about our conversation and when I’m planning to follow up,” she shared. This meticulous tracking enabled Cassie to develop lasting relationships, which she can lean on for on-the-job guidance now that she's found roles through Handshake as an intern at Well Traveled and contributing writer for Destination Tampa Bay.
Building the right networking mindset
While reaching out to meet people might sound intimidating, Cassie found that most people were eager to help. “As a student, people really want to see you succeed, and they notice when you’re stepping above and beyond to make an effort.”
She encourages students to put themselves out there using Handshake's messaging tool and virtual information chats, through on-campus events, and using their school's alumni network—and don't be afraid to ask people if they have anybody in their own circle that they think you should meet! The key, she says, is not to treat networking opportunities like a mandatory step in the job search process. Instead of entering a conversation expecting it to turn into an internship offer, stay focused on making authentic connections and genuinely getting to know people.
“It’s not a transaction, it’s a relationship. You just have to start somewhere. Networking is a skill and mindset of how to approach people that gets stronger over time.”
Track your networking like a pro
Want to build your own network? Visit your school's career center for personalized professional guidance and networking event opportunities, or you can check out the free template that Cassie created. You can view her networking tracker template here — to use it for yourself, simply navigate to "File," then "Make a Copy." (If you don't use Google Sheets, you can click "Download" to get the Excel spreadsheet version!)
Once you've created a copy for yourself, just update your industry interests and begin tracking your own professional network.
Keep in touch
Cassie's biggest pieces of advice for other networkers are to build genuine connections, then stay in touch! “Some relationships will be a one-time conversation, and that’s OK, but it’ll be a stronger connection if you try to connect with them as a person and keep track of what’s going on in their lives. I send a message every other month to check in, say hello, or ask a question, and it’s not awkward because we know each other,” she says.
For even more top-tier networking advice from Cassie, check out her advice for making introductions, staying in touch, and sending a killer thank-you note in this video!