Networking is key to succeeding in your career, but it's also one thing most colleges don't teach you in the classroom. Learning how to connect with your peers, professors and community is crucial for both personal and professional development.
Many students might not realize that the best place to start building your network is with your college professors. Faculty members can serve as mentors, references or just trusted resources you can turn to with career questions after graduation.
Here are five easy ways to tap into your college's most valuable resource: professors.
1. Research your professors
A recent Gallup poll found that college graduates are twice as likely "to be engaged at work if they had a mentor who encouraged them to pursue their goals and dreams."
Approach networking with faculty members as a way to learn more about your field, not just a way to get a job. People will be more likely to talk to you if they know you're just looking for information, and it will make your attempts to connect more authentic.
Before you reach out to your professors, read their blogs, websites and papers to learn about their interests and achievements. With a base knowledge of their background, students can ask networking questions about their careers and fields of study.
"It's not about telling people how great and smart you are, it's about exhibiting a genuine interest in others and seeking ways to help them, without expecting to receive anything in return," writes life coach and networking expert Stefano Ganddini.
2. Attend office hours
Office hours give you an opportunity to talk to your professors one-on-one and ask them about their careers. Make a point to attend each of your professors' office hours once during the semester. Be mindful of their time and come prepared with a few questions.
Below are some questions to ask professors during office hours:
- How did you become interested in this field?
- What do you think is the most interesting problem or challenge in the field today?
- What is your favorite part of your teaching or research?
- What do you wish you'd known when you were an undergrad?
- If I want to learn more, what are some readings you would recommend?
3. Build thoughtful relationships
College professors can be excellent resources, but networking is a two-way street. If you read an article that's relevant to your professor's research, email it over to them with a short note. If you learn that they've won a big award within their field or have published a new book, congratulate them on your way out of class or send them a brief email. Remember to be sincere in these interactions; anyone can tell when they receive a forced compliment.
Even though networking is an accepted part of life at a university, don't take your professor's time for granted. Always be polite and prompt.
"Since everyone is busy, it is important to reply quickly to any requests you initiate. If you send me an email on Monday asking me to meet next week, then I will likely reply to you within a couple of hours and expect you to do the same," says Stephen J. Aguilar, an assistant professor at the University of Southern California's Rossier School of Education. "If, however, you delay your reply until Friday, then you are being ineffective and inefficient at building a relationship with me."
Consider inviting your professors to events that are relevant to your career or shared field. Let's say you wrote a poem in their writing class and are going to read it at the English department's end-of-semester event. Send your professor an email to thank them for their help and invite them to the reading.
Remember: In all interactions with your professors, keep your tone friendly and professional.
4. Follow up and ask for feedback
A key to relationship building is the follow up. After a meeting, always send a quick note or message thanking your professor for his or her time. If you offered to share something during your meeting (such as a link to a great article you read), be sure to include it. Demonstrating that you're reliable is an important part of cultivating this professional connection, especially if you might later ask them for a reference or a recommendation for a job or graduate school.
Feedback can be the point where a professional relationship morphs into a mentor/mentee relationship. Wherever possible, request feedback from your professors, especially if you followed through on advice they gave you.
5. Don't limit your network
Your own professors are the place to start, but broaden your college network by approaching other professors in your institution whose fields you care about. You can even reach out to professors at other universities if their research or papers come up in your studies. Professors will likely be more receptive to your outreach while you're a student than after graduation, so don't be afraid to email people you admire.
Likewise, start a LinkedIn account now, so you can easily expand your network and keep it all in one place. Don't be afraid to connect with teaching assistants, internship supervisors, bosses from your part-time job and other students who are in your on-campus clubs and activities. You never know where your professional paths might cross again. While you're updating your professional materials, hone your applications with our top-notch Resume Builder and Cover Letter Builder.
Networking with your college professors is the best way to kick-start your professional network. It's a time-honored method to find internships and connections and even land your first job. College is one of the only times in life where you will have easy access to such a broad community of engaged, intelligent people whose actual job is to help you gain the knowledge you need to pursue a successful career.