As a student, “networking” can be hard to relate to, prioritize, and even understand. Here are some networking strategies and tips you can take throughout your college years to surround yourself with supportive individuals who can help you achieve your career goals.
Understanding networking and its value
Networking is one of the most valuable skills you can develop as a student because you will use it throughout your career. If you aren’t sure what activities “count” as networking, here are some examples:
- Connecting with classmates, professors, or others on LinkedIn to stay in touch and learn about opportunities they share
- Messaging alumni through Handshake or LinkedIn to ask about their career
- Attending virtual company information sessions and actively using the chat box
- Speaking with individuals in line or in the elevator at events
How to start networking before senior year
Although it may be tempting to put off networking until you are closer to graduation, it is an invaluable tool in helping you understand the correlation between majors, careers, and your interests, while building a support system for your career. The sooner you start, the better your connections will know you, which will allow them to better advise you.
Think about your motivations to pursue your major, activities you enjoyed in high school, and what classes have been interesting so far in order to identify keywords to search for and individuals to network with.
Consider these networking activities:
- Attend professors’ office hours and ask about the field or their career.
- Join student organizations (examples: “Education Club” or “Women in STEM”).
- Leverage Handshake to explore students’ profiles or search for (and follow) employers, to ask students who worked there for advice and insight.
Many of these suggestions involve reaching out to someone with the goal of building rapport, which can then lead to an informational interview.
Informational interviews: the foundation of networking
Informational Interviews are the best type of networking conversations because you can ask questions to learn about someone’s career. By spending 25 minutes with a connection, you can learn how to get started and succeed throughout college and your career.
Aim to conduct one informational interview each semester. If you start during your first year, this could result in 8+ connections in your field of interest. Think of all of the advice and referrals you will have access to!
Networking as a college senior
Networking is even more imperative in your senior year. By developing a support system of contacts who know what you are looking for, you will have access to job opportunities and referrals that are specifically directed to you.
These networking activities may be helpful:
- Connect with professors, classmates, internship supervisors, and others on LinkedIn. This will maintain your network after graduation and allow you to learn of opportunities shared by your connections.
- Attend employer and networking events put on by your career center. Attendees want to connect with students like you!
- Pursue a student membership to a professional organization in your field. Many offer free or reduced cost memberships that provide access to industry-specific job boards, scholarships for conference attendance, and networking opportunities.
About the author:
Ally Baldwin is the Director of Career Services and Employer Relations at Fisher College in Boston, MA. Outside of work, she serves as Director of Technology and Information Management for the Eastern Association of Colleges and Employers (EACE) and enjoys writing, music, and spending time with her cats, Max and Theo.
Check out more tips from career center professionals in our on-going series, Career Center Confidential.