A Complete Guide to Networking in College and Beyond
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- Networking in college can help you find a job after graduation and advance your career.
- You can build confidence, interpersonal skills, and professional relationships.
- Always come prepared to networking events with career goals and professional materials.
- Follow up with contacts using social media, email, and networking apps.
Today, networking often plays a critical role in job hunting and career advancement. By developing a network in college, you can discover professional opportunities, share best practices with peers and colleagues, and identify a mentor who can offer you practical advice and guidance.
You might feel nervous about attending networking events or reaching out to new contacts, especially if you're a student or recent graduate with little to no job experience. However, networking can greatly benefit you and help you forge new connections, learn more about potential career paths and industries, and even find a job.
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This guide gives an overview of networking for college students and recent grads. We'll go over how to prepare for networking events, the benefits of networking, and key networking tips.
What Does Networking Mean?
Networking describes the act of meeting and staying in contact with professionals and other people, usually within your field or industry. Your relationships with these individuals can later be used to help you achieve a goal, such as finding a new job, changing careers, and securing a raise or promotion.
The two main types of professional networking are formal and informal networking.
Formal networking usually involves meetings and events arranged specifically for the purpose of creating professional connections. Through these planned events, students and recent grads can quickly grow their professional circles outside the people they already know.
Informal networking, in contrast, involves speaking with friends, family members, classmates, professors, and colleagues about potential job opportunities. For example, you might ask your contacts about a specific role that opened up at their company or signal more generally that you're hoping to take the next step in your career.
When networking — both formally and informally — try to concentrate on building genuine, ongoing relationships rather than immediately asking for a favor or recommendation.
What Are the Benefits of Networking in College?
Building a network of peers and mentors in college can have a lasting impact on your career. Discover some of the benefits of networking in college listed below.
You'll Have Connections in Place by Graduation
Professional networking builds relationships with mentors and employers who can help advance your future career. Fostering these connections in college allows you to have a professional network already in place by graduation — right in time for your job search.
Professional networks can help you find jobs and get recommendations and advice.
It Sharpens Your Interpersonal Skills and Builds Confidence
Networking requires you to get to know people and forge connections. While networking has its own merits, it also strengthens your interpersonal and communication skills while building your confidence.
These traits are essential for the workforce. Employers like confident employees who communicate and connect well with others.
It Opens You Up to Potential Mentors
Building relationships through networking opens you up to finding a potential mentor who can help foster success. Mentors can give career advice, help you work through problems, and prepare you for the future. Finding a mentor requires creating a connection with someone and showing a willingness to learn.
More People Will Know Your Name
Even if you don't build any lasting relationships, networking allows you to get your name out there. Employers are more likely to invest time in people they already know. Allowing potential employers to put a face to a name may help you in the interview process down the road.
How Do Job Fairs and Networking Events Work?
Most colleges hold job fairs and networking events for students. These events are typically held on campus, though some smaller networking functions may take place off campus.
Students attend job fairs and networking events to meet recruiters face to face, learn about job opportunities, and begin building relationships with potential employers.
In general, colleges allow all students to attend job fairs for free. Smaller networking events may be more exclusive and only open to students in a particular field of study. Students should dress nicely, in clothes ranging from business casual to formal, depending on the event.
Virtual career fairs are similar in principle and take place entirely online. These events generally allow more students to attend.
6 Essential Networking Tips for Students and Recent Grads
Networking requires preparation and practice. Not everyone finds it easy to market themselves and establish professional contacts. To succeed at building connections — whether online or at networking events — you need to be confident and prepared.
These six networking tips can help you forge strong business connections.
1. Identify Your Goals
To get the most out of networking, you need to set career goals. Understanding what you need and what you're looking for will help you prepare for the event. Career goals may include switching careers, finding interview opportunities, or simply growing your professional network for future endeavors.
2. Craft Your Elevator Pitch
Once you've figured out your goals, you can get to work on your elevator pitch — a brief summary of your professional history, your future plans, and what you can offer others. This is the pitch you'll use in conversation when trying to establish a connection with somebody, whether at a networking event or elsewhere.
You might also benefit from brainstorming conversation starter topics or networking questions, such as what kind of advice they might offer to someone new to their industry.
3. Dress the Part
Dressing professionally at a networking event will put you in the right mindset to form professional relationships and help you make a good impression on potential employers. Recruiters and other professionals meet with a lot of students during networking events, so making a good impression is critical.
4. Gather Materials
Preparing for a networking event includes creating and bringing materials like resumes and business cards. Recruiters come to college campuses looking for future employees.
Coming prepared with a resume and/or business cards tells recruiters that you're a serious candidate and genuinely interested in pursuing a career with them. It also helps recruiters remember your name.
Writing a professional resume can take time, so begin thinking about networking prep days or even weeks in advance.
5. Be Proactive
At networking events, you must show initiative. Hand out your business card, introduce yourself to strangers, contribute to conversations, and ask engaging networking questions. Afterward, you can start to strengthen relationships with your new connections by asking more questions and continuing professional conversations from the event at which you met them.
Networking requires a proactive mindset. For example, if you see people you'd like to meet, don't be afraid to invite them to connect on LinkedIn or send them an introductory email. Try to avoid cold-calling unless absolutely necessary.
Another way to expand your network is to join alumni and professional associations, nonprofit boards, and online and in-person affinity groups.
6. Follow Up With New Connections
Following up with new connections is one of the most important — and often most neglected — components of networking. Doing this allows you to transform a single conversation into an ongoing, mutually beneficial relationship.
Start by organizing the contact information you collected. Then, send personalized messages to each individual you met, either via email or through an online network like LinkedIn.
Effective strategies include referencing specific information they shared with you, asking a question they're uniquely prepared to answer, and thanking them for any advice they gave you.
You might also suggest a second meeting or say you hope to see them again at a future event.
What Professional Networking Sites Should You Use?
Professional networking sites, as well as social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, offer an easy way to make connections, organize your contacts, and understand the relationships among them.
Online networking profiles often serve as your first impression to potential employers, clients, and business partners, so be sure your accounts are updated and professional-looking. Other social media accounts can be set to private as you search for jobs.
Here are a few of the best professional networking sites you can use to grow your network.
With over 700 million users, LinkedIn is one of the most popular and influential professional networking sites. Users can share their work and educational experience, give and receive professional recommendations, and post news and career development articles.
Even if you don't regularly log in to LinkedIn, it's a good idea to keep your profile updated for recruiters and future employers.
Twitter allows users to share brief messages, links, and various media with individuals who choose to follow them. Though its primary function is not to facilitate direct connections, Twitter can help you stay up to date on news and relevant trends in your field, provide a platform for publicizing your work, and help you grow your online presence through consistent engagement.
Facebook can help you find informal networking opportunities. Additionally, if you run your own business or work as a consultant, you can create a dedicated Facebook page to advertise your products and services.
How to Email a Professional Connection
Whether following up on a networking contact or reaching out to a professional you've never met, how you draft your email often determines the kind of response you can expect to receive.
First, be as clear as possible in your email. Introduce yourself before making a request, such as a meeting or advice on a particular issue. You also want to be concise. You can provide more detail in the body of your email, but try to keep sentences short and to the point.
Finally, thank your contact in advance for their assistance and include your contact information. Remember to proofread your email before hitting send.
Below are two examples of how you can set up an email for a networking request. How you organize your email will differ slightly depending on whether you know or don't know the person you're reaching out to.
Networking Email Example 1: Someone You Know
Hi Uncle Jim,
It was great to see you at the family barbecue last week! I wanted to follow up on our conversation and see if you'd be willing to connect me with your company's HR director.
As I mentioned, I'm looking for an entry-level sales position, and your company has always seemed like a great place to work. I know you weren't sure when you'd be hiring sales associates, but I'd still love to have the opportunity to introduce myself to some people and get on their radar for when something opens up in the future.
I've attached my resume for you to share. But just to provide a quick overview: I am graduating in two months with a bachelor's in marketing, and I've worked for two years as a waiter and host at Dad's restaurant. I think that experience would translate really well into sales.
Thanks again for your help. I really appreciate the connection and all the great advice you offered. Hope to see you and Aunt Jane soon!
Networking Email Example 2: Someone You Don't Know
Dear Ms. Jackson,
I came across your profile in Education Week and hope you might have time for a brief meeting. I'm interested in becoming a school principal, and I'd love the chance to get your advice since you're an accomplished leader in education.
I've been an English teacher at James Madison High School in Port Conway for two years and have a master's in education from the University of Virginia. I ultimately want to progress to an administrative role, but I have some questions about what steps to take next. For instance, I read that you earned a doctorate in education prior to becoming a principal, and I've wondered whether you would recommend that approach to aspiring school leaders.
I'm also curious to learn more about your transition from teaching in a rural area to serving as a principal in a large city.
I'd be happy to meet whenever you're available, though I'll be away for a professional development conference July 7-10. Thank you in advance for your time.
What Happens After You Send Your Email?
You may not receive a reply to your email for many reasons. Your contact may be temporarily too busy to respond, or maybe they intended to reply but simply forgot to do so. Don't be afraid to follow up.
After sending your email, give your contact at least a week to respond. After that, you might decide to send a second email to confirm that they received your first message and to reiterate your request. As always, be polite and concise.
If you still don't receive a reply, consider looking for another contact at that organization or in that industry.