You may not think of school as a place for networking; but in reality, it’s a gold mine of potential connections. If you manage your time and studies right, these connections have the potential to help you secure your first internship, full-time job or even a future promotion. Cultivate these relationships now and you’ll have the opportunity to help others as well.
Most professors are excited when they see a student is excited. They enjoy seeing someone who has the same passion and they appreciate those who go the extra mile. If you have a class that really interests you, make an appointment to speak with that professor. What else can you learn from them? What was their career path like if they did something before teaching? Can they recommend a career path, a company or an internship to you? A professor can be an incredible mentor. He or she can also be a reference for you when you begin to apply for jobs.
If you attend a smaller school, it can be easier to get to know your advisors. Similar to professors, advisors can serve as mentors. They may be able to recommend classes, internships or a career path based on your interests. They may have connections with alumni as well. If you build a good relationship with your advisor, they can also serve as a reference and speak to your dedication, follow through and ability to work under pressure.
Throughout the school year, there are often opportunities to interact with alumni. Some universities have panel discussions that include alumni and others have more casual events. You may also find that alumni volunteer at the university career center. They may practice interview skills or share information about internship or job openings and career paths at their company. Visit your career center to find out if there are any opportunities to interact with alumni. Ask questions. Learn from them. But most importantly, connect with them and stay in touch. Again, let them know what you’re interested in so that you are the person they think of when they hear of an opening.
Whether you’re ready to look for a job or not, career fairs are a must. Visit the companies that interest you or those in industries that align with your major. Ask the representatives about their career path and what specific skills, classes or characteristics they look for in employees. Collect business cards and ask representatives if they would mind a follow up by email. Write a simple thank you email and then make it a point to check in every 3-6 months. You may eventually be ready to tell them you’ve completed certain classes or acquired certain skills and are interested in finding out if any internship or job positions are available. Connecting in advance shows you really want to be there and you are a determined professional.
Whether your university is large or small, you will be surrounded by students. If you have the time to get involved in a club or group for your major, that is a wonderful way to make mutually beneficial connections. These students will likely be looking for jobs in the same industry as you. They may find a job opening that doesn’t suit them, but pass the opportunity along to you so that you can apply. They may graduate or secure a job before you. If that’s the case, they can notify you about openings at their company. Many companies actually have referral programs.
Good networking is all about thinking outside of the box and the best connections are made when you are genuine. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, get to know people and express your future goals. You never know where one conversation will lead.