Networking can make some college students cringe. If you think it sounds pushy or awkward, you may be surprised how simple and beneficial it can be. In fact, learning how to network in college will give your career a boost from the start.
You can use the resources on your campus to meet people in your field, cement the relationships you've already built, gain feedback on your career ideas, and explore new opportunities, all before you receive your diploma.
Learn more about the benefits of networking with these four tips and consider this the push you need to stop procrastinating and start making connections in your future profession.
1. Access career services early and often
Don't wait until the week before graduation to figure out where the career services office is on your campus. Author Reyna Gobel writes about college and co-authored the audiobook, 7 Skills to Catapult Your Career. She recommends that college students visit their career centers at least once each semester.
These frequent visits allow you to see new opportunities for internships as they pop up, and to explore different career paths if your plans shift over time.
Your career center likely offers many helpful resources, such as:
- Job postings and databases
- Resources and advice on choosing your career and potential jobs that align with your major and interests
- Access to professionals who can read over your resume, cover letter and other application materials
- Workshops on interview skills
- One-on-one career advice
- Networking tips for students
2. Attend an on-campus internship or job fair
Since so many companies post their job listings online, going to a job fair may not seem like the best use of your time. But if you use them correctly, job fairs can be an invaluable source of information and a real-world master class on how to network in college. At a career fair, you can make face-to-face connections with people who are looking for new talent for their companies and start building rapport.
Businesses often send young alumni or human resources professionals to these events to answer questions about the types of people they're looking for and the types of positions that might be open. In a former position, I was one of those recent alumni. I attended several college career fairs each year, always on the lookout for talented college students.
When you attend, bring a stack of resumes, dress professionally, and ask smart questions of the people you meet. If you like what you hear, ask the company representatives for a business card, so you can follow up directly or send a tailored cover letter their way.
In an article for Business Insider, Liz Wessel, the CEO of WayUp, pointed out that it can be expensive for companies to attend career fairs, which means there are many more job opportunities out there than what you might see at a single career fair. Still, getting the opportunity to talk about your experience and ask questions of people in your field can be a valuable experience – and it could be a direct path to the right company.
3. Attend events related to your major or future career
After a long day of classes and work, it can be tempting to head back to your dorm room instead of going to hear a guest speaker lecture or attending a networking event. But making the extra effort to attend these extracurricular events is one of our favorite networking tips for students. In addition to meeting other people on campus with similar interests and ambitions, you'll stand out to whatever professor, alumni or campus group is hosting the event. That can come in handy later, especially if you're looking for recommendations or you need help securing an internship in your field.
Don't be afraid to speak up once you're at the event, either during a question and answer session or by striking up a conversation with the event's host. People in positions of power and influence often love to discuss how they got there.
4. Use LinkedIn to connect with peers, professors and others
Between classes, dorms and on-campus activities, college is a unique time to meet new people, from classmates to fellow interns to professors to professionals you meet while interning. Harnessing the power of your growing network now can help you in countless ways in the future. If you don't already have an account, set up a profile on LinkedIn and start forging those connections professionally by inviting them to join your network on the platform.
In an article on why LinkedIn is such a powerful tool for college students, personal branding expert William Arruda notes "... [LinkedIn] allows you to manage all your contacts in one place and is replete with tools that help you stay in touch so you can stay visible and available to hiring managers at all levels."
Arruda suggests that students join groups on LinkedIn and use the alumni feature to discover who from your college works at a potential employer. LinkedIn also offers an easy-to-follow guide for how college students should set up their profile page.
One thing to keep in mind about making connections in college and beyond is that you should only use LinkedIn for professional purposes. Of course, you can add your friends, but your posts and communications on the platform should always be professional.
At the end of each semester, take some time to think about who you might want to connect with, whether it's someone you worked on a group project with or your boss from an internship.
Another networking tip: connecting with peers from your student organizations and sports teams can be helpful. While these people are playing a huge role in your life now, it's easy to lose track of where everyone lands professionally after college. Connecting on a work-focused platform ensures that you can easily get back in touch, especially if they take a job at a company you'd like to work for or if you find yourselves living in the same city. And if that happens? Reach out and make the connection in real life once again.
All of this networking effort should give you real-life perspective on your job search efforts and ways to capitalize on the skills and knowledge you built in school. Ready to translate that knowledge to your resume? LiveCareer's Resume Builder can help.