The idea of networking is often a scary one to students. It is for seasoned professionals as well! Why is that? Aside from the fact that most people are typically uncomfortable with things commonly associated with networking such as talking about yourself, asking for something, approaching strangers and so on, I have learned that it also comes from a lack of understanding of one key point about networking.
One of the biggest misconceptions being that networking only happens at “networking events” such as career fairs, networking dinners/socials, career nights, business meetings and other “formal” events. The idea that networking has to be “formal” in some way I think is a dangerous attitude to have when it comes to networking because it increases the pressure that people feel when participating in such events and it makes people shy away from networking.
My definition of networking has always been a simple one: networking can be any instance or situation in which you’re able to communicate your career goals to another individual. Applying this definition to your networking efforts can ease the pressure and allow for some practice before you go out and attend more formal networking events.
Often overlooked is the value of making connections with campus faculty and staff. I recommend students being their networking efforts by considering the following two things as networking.
- Schedule an appointment with a career counselor. You accomplish several things as it relates to networking when you discuss your career plans with a counselor. First, you get practice communicating about career, this will make it easier to do so with professionals in the future. If you can’t clearly articulate your goals and career aspirations, as well as understand how to make specific “asks” of those you network with than you aren’t likely to be successful. Secondly, by doing this you are actively networking. How so? You will be creating a relationship with someone that has access to opportunities, employers, companies and career knowledge; isn’t that just the type of person you want to network with?
- Communicate often in your classes. Make your opinions and thoughts known to other students and your professors. This accomplishes several things, one of being that standing out in your classes will help you build connections with campus faculty and other students. These faculty members often have connections to internships, jobs, employers and other opportunities and are more likely to connect you to them if you appear to be a thoughtful and articulate student. Why would it be important for students to hear your thoughts and opinions? Students also have connections to opportunities and are more likely to share them with if you can make a connection with them. Again, this in itself is networking. Also, it is good practice for networking situations as you will have begun to build your verbal communication skills in class and can then apply them to networking.
Start small and build from there!