No matter what college campus you are attending, you will encounter hundreds if not thousands of people. In my college, East Carolina University, we have almost 28,000 students! This means there is at least 28,000 new opportunities, people to meet, and things to learn. So there is no excuse not to network.
Networking occurs when you meet and form professional relationships with people who have the potential to help you reach your goals in one way or another. Often it ends up being a mutually beneficial relationship or connection. The ability to do this is a very important skill to have in a wide variety of professions. In college, our goals might include landing great internships or walking into a career fair with confidence. First off, it is important to remember why we attend college; usually the end goal is to find a great job. That means the 4 years spent at school should not only be about learning, but also developing as a person. There are so many programs on campus to help you build your resume; you just have to know how to walk the walk. So get out your business cards… let’s get to work!
The concept of networking is simple, yet terrifying at the same time. But like I said, networking is simply about meeting new people. Having a large network of people will not only be important in the business world, but also in college. There are all kinds of reasons to network—most of the time you make new friends or acquaintances though networking for an internship, job, or other opportunity. You’ve heard the old saying that “who you know” makes a big difference in getting ahead in a competition. Often that statement still rings true. A great example in my own life is when I was selected as a Pirate Profile on the East Carolina University website. I was just at the Career Center one day participating in a mock interview, and someone on the panel emailed the director of the ECU Pirate Profile Program later that same day suggesting I be the next feature. Another example would be how I landed my internship in New York City. I actively try to get to know my professors. One of my teachers invited me to have lunch with a visiting business owner, who offered me a summer job. These are just two examples of how simply making use of the wonderful resources a university has to offer (in this case the career center, and caring faculty members) can lead to doors you never anticipated might be opened for you.
In college you will come across lots of different kinds of students. Some students came to college to learn, some came to party, and then there are those (like me) who came to develop themselves as a person in general. Thousands of people will be graduating from college at the same time as you, so while in school it’s vital you develop a working resume. Your resume can grow fast by the opportunities networking can present. Many opportunities are hidden to the general public and you have to be actively looking to find them, OR in some cases opportunities can be created just for you. Networking always requires you to make the first move. Fortunately at college there are MANY avenues for networking.
The first thing you will need when networking is confidence; though you may have to fake this confidence at times, which is okay too. For example, during networking events (like a career fair or when a company is giving a presentation) most college students will wait to be approached, stand to the sides, or come with a friend. By the way, I do not recommend attending events like these with friends. You will be less focused, and it makes you appear like you are not independent. So go into career fairs and other events with the plan to stay engaged and seek out people to interact with the whole time.
Be prepared to know how to describe yourself. Knowing yourself and your strengths will help you in college and in the real world, and it will help to know how to talk about your strengths to others (when asked). Think deeply about what your strengths are, and pick out some adjectives that best describe you (for example: adventurous, cheerful, and self-disciplined). Knowing these things will help you when talking with a person of power. To improve your chances of making a great first impression, you must speak well and act self-confident and collected.
In every networking situation, always lead with a firm handshake (while making eye contact – and a smile does not hurt either) and introduce yourself. After that is over, you might wonder now what? Not knowing what to say makes most people intimidated. A trick I’ve found is to ask questions and listen. A great opening is to ask about their position or line of work, and how long they have been with the organization. You can also ask about their home life, travels, or where they are from. Just keep in mind that networking is a professional conversation, so try not to be too casual in your language and keep your demeanor to a formal politeness.
Lastly, it is a good idea to have a few business cards on hand. Business cards should have your name and contact information. This makes you seem very professional to potential employers, but more importantly provides a way to ensure they have a means to get in touch with you on a later date. So exchange cards and follow up with them in a “nice to meet you” email. This last gesture is a form of politeness that will help employers form a good opinion of you, as well as keep you in the forefront of their minds when choosing candidates for job positions that may become available.
Over time I will share with you more tricks on how to network, with whom to network, and some basic tools you’ll need. In closing for now though, I would like to suggest a practice technique for you to try—introduce yourself in the mirror. This way you can see how you come across to others and make improvements if needed!