Networking is a powerful tool — if you know how to use it correctly. However, when you mention “networking” to the everyday college student, you usually get a negative reaction.
To many college students, networking comes off as “inauthentic” or explicitly something that’s done in the corporate world. The common stereotype is that networking involves being a brown noser — that you kiss up to people and have to be that annoying kid that sits in the front row and asks all the questions like a teacher’s pet.
Let me be the first to tell you, none of this is true. You don’t to be disingenuous when you’re networking. In fact, being disingenuous is what you should never be doing because it doesn’t lead to lifelong professional relationships.
In reality, everyone does networking whether they call it networking, or “making friends” or just “having a conversation with [insert name].” Everybody establishes connections in life, but the real question is should you start to do “the networking thing” in college, or wait until later?
There’s a host of reasons why you should start networking as a college student. Obviously, you’ll need letters of recommendations for grad school or for your first job. But there are other, hidden, reasons why you want to start networking as soon as you can after you get to campus.
Here are my “top tips” for networking while in college. Take a look.
Number One: People Your Age
This should be the most accessible group you can network with. And the reason why you want to network with people your own age is because, in only a few short years, your closest friends from college might someday be your boss, your co-worker, or might even connect with you to help with a work project.
- Don’s Tip: Build friendships with as many people as you can. This allows you to have a vast number of friends and acquaintances that you can connect with and contact if you need help.
Still, it’s difficult to know exactly what to do. “I know I need to network, but you do you actually do it? What are the steps to take?” is a question that never gets answered. So here’s the answer:
- When you’re sitting next to a student before class, say “excuse me” and ask a question that’s relevant to the class — homework assignment, test dates, “do you remember what Professor Smith said about xyz?” These are starter questions that will get you engaged with another person.
- Go to social gatherings and be involved in clubs where you can meet new people.
- Follow up with new friends by inviting them to go out for a chat over coffee or food.
- Most importantly, remember to always say hello when seeing a person you’ve recently met. You need to establish a secure understanding that both of you know each other.
To some college students, being friendly to everyone might come off as inauthentic. However, networking does not mean you give equal time to everyone. You can still compartmentalize your time with individuals however you see fit, but you need to make sure you maintain connections and be cordial with as many students as you can. There’s no downside to being nice to others.
Number Two: People Much Older Than You
Connecting with individuals older than you is one of the harder aspects of networking.
When you’re a student, your best bet to reaching older people is to establish a relationship with your professors and administrators. Remember, professors and admins are the people most likely to learn about job / career opportunities in their field first, which could open the door to all kinds of opportunities. How do you go about doing this?
- Talk to them after class about a certain topic discussed during the lecture. This is an excellent way to get close to the professor and establish a relationship.
Sometimes, though, the classes are too large to actually have a conversation with the professor. If this is the case, there are other means of making an impression.
- Go to the same university talks and events that they attend.
- Always say hello when you see them so that they recognize you.
- Sign up for a meeting with them to discuss a certain topic and keep it as cordial as possible.
- Finally, invite them out to social activities — coffee, lunch, dinner, or an after-class beer at the campus pub. They will likely say no (because they are busy), but the gesture itself will be very appreciated.
Establishing a good friendship with those older than you is an excellent way to get a boost into the working world. Some college students overlook the importance of this, but I cannot recommend it highly enough!
Number Three: People Younger Than You
In general, older college students don’t really associate with underclassman. There are plenty of stereotypes, but consider it like this — it costs you nothing to be nice to an underclassman.
Most importantly, befriending those younger than you is an excellent way to learn to inspire others and be impactful.
You can befriend underclassman most commonly through your courses and clubs. However, most upperclassman don’t follow up on these friendship.
When meeting those younger than you in college, invite them out and have them hang out with your friends for a bit. These little gestures of friendship are sure to have an impact on a freshman who is still learning the ropes of college. It will cement your place as someone they will remember, and establishing yourself as a social leader goes a long way in life.
Don’t forget that some 19-year-old that you were kind to during college may turn out to be the CEO of an amazing startup venture … you’d like to be invited to play, wouldn’t you?
Lastly, Number Four: People Via Social Media
We’re in the internet-world, so you want to include internet things in your networking.
Social media is an excellent way to reach out and build relations with plenty of new people. There are a few specific sites that provide an especially useful way of networking. One I cannot recommend highly enough is LinkedIn.
LinkedIn is an excellent tool because it virtually connects for you based on your credentials. So, what you should be doing is making your profile on LinkedIn one that fully represents who you are. This type of networking is indispensable in today’s technological world.
Some other ways to network online (and there are plenty) are:
- Reach out to organizations via email and establish connections.
- Comment on posts via LinkedIn or even Facebook.
- Look through posts that appeal to your interests on Reddit and perhaps establish a working relationship that way.
- And (this is very important), put out any of your work online. If it’s either your writing, or even a presentation that you are proud of, it needs to be accessible so that others can comment on your work and connect with you.
Recapping on What to Do
Now that you have all these tips at your disposal, you should be able to apply them almost immediately, but building these relationships take time. Start with peers in your own age group and branch out from there to include your professors, underclassman, and those online.
Tell me your thoughts — what are your top networking tips? Leave them in the comments below and let’s turn this into the best networking article for college students on the interwebz.
I’m thinking about putting together a more-detailed version of this in a free report … interested? If so, make sure you mention this in the comments so I know that there’s interest in it.