Network, network, network. There is so much emphasis put on the importance of networking as a college undergraduate. It’s a word thrown around so easily, but is still such an abstract concept for most students. I remember thinking, more often than not, “Why would they want to help me?” “I don’t want to bother them.” “Why would they care to give me advice?” But as I got older I started putting things into perspective. Someone once asked me, “If a high school senior wanted to talk to you about college, your major, studying abroad, wouldn’t you be excited to talk to them?” and it finally made sense. I would be thrilled to chat with someone about my experience and give them advice along the way! It’s the same for professionals – there are plenty of opportunities to network with similar, like-minded individuals throughout your college career. Here are a few ideas to start:
- Get to know the faculty and staff.
Teachers want to see their students succeed. It’s part of their job! At the college level, professors often have years of experience under their belt and tons of connections in their area of expertise. If there’s a class you really excel in, or a teacher you really connect with, keep the relationship going after the semester ends by sending emails or dropping by their office. Let them know your career goals and see if they have any advice or contacts to introduce you to.
- Join student organizations or networking clubs.
Clubs and organizations are a great way to meet other students that have similar interests and goals. This is where you can really start forming your own network to take with you after graduation. These groups often have industry speakers or alumni networking events to attend. Take advantage of every opportunity available to meet professionals and alumni, get their contact information, and invite them to chat over coffee sometime. These professionals are also great resources for expanding your network, as they can introduce you to others within their organization, or past colleagues that will be willing to speak with you, too!
- Reach out to industry contacts.
Don’t be afraid to send an email to a family friend or former coworker asking for an informational interview or introduction. Reaching out to professionals can be intimidating, but if you keep it short and sweet with clear intentions, they are generally happy to help. If you don’t want to feel like you’re only contacting them when you need something, send them an occasional update or check in to see how their big project at work is going. It’s likely that they will be happy to mentor a college student, or at least offer up some assistance here and there.
Networking can be a complex and confusing term, but once you put things into perspective and get a little practice, it will become second nature. Don’t hesitate to get involved on campus and reach out to industry professionals during your undergraduate career – it will pay off!
I would love to hear your networking advice, as well. What other ways can college students start networking as an undergrad?