Networking is one of the most important job skills you’ll acquire in college. Having a broad network of contacts exponentially increases your knowledge and opportunities. Successful networking also ensures that no matter what questions or challenges come along, you will have someone to turn to for assistance. However, there’s one catch: networking isn’t taught in a class, so you must develop the ability on your own. Here are the most important skills and methods for building a large network:
1. Introduce Yourself - Putting out your hand is a small but powerful gesture. Introducing yourself to interesting people you come across is the first and most critical step to networking. It can seem intimidating at first. However, just like with any other skill, it becomes much easier with practice. Even if the person you introduce yourself to doesn’t immediately become your friend, or even remember you the next time you meet, you’ve laid the groundwork for a potential future relationship. Or, you can think of it conversely: what is the chance that you will develop a useful relationship with them if you do not introduce yourself?
2. Ask Questions - During lectures, at events, when you meet a professional in your chosen field – if you have a relevant question, ask it. Asking questions is a great way to start conversations, to gain important knowledge, and to show that you are seriously engaged in a topic.
3. Don’t Pass Up Opportunities - Go to office hours, take a seminar, attend speaking events. If you avail yourself of opportunities to gain knowledge and meet people in your field, you will quickly build a network for yourself.
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4. Make Friends in Class - Fellow students are coping with all of the same questions, challenges, and concerns that you are. Becoming friends with classmates will not only make classes more pleasant, it will also make them easier. You can form study groups, trade tips, and answer each other’s questions.
5. Get to Know Your Instructors - If you attend a small college, it is relatively easy to develop a personal relationship with your professors because classes are generally small and participation-based. If you attend a large university, meeting professors requires more initiative. Two key tips to meeting professors: take small seminar classes and go to office hours. Also, don’t undervalue graduate students who teach discussion sections. GSI’s or TA’s can offer valuable advice, introduce you to professors, and connect you with research assistant positions.
6. Join a Student Group - Whether related to your profession or to a separate interest, student groups are a fantastic way to meet people and make friends. Organizing events for student groups is an additional networking boon; you will have to reach out and form relationships with relevant campus and community members. LINK TO TIPS FOR JOINING STUDENT GROUPS
7. Get an Internship - Internships and research assistant positions are prime methods for meeting a variety of people in your field of study. Working directly with professionals enables many meaningful discussions and interactions. In addition to gaining insight into the work environment, you might also be exposed to potential longer-term job opportunities. LINK TO INTERNSHIP ARTICLES
8. Join a Professional Fraternity - You won’t find beer pong or keg stands at a professional fraternity; professional frats are open to both men and women, and are designed to build community among members of a certain profession. Agriculture, business, engineering, law, and medicine are the professions most likely to have professional fraternities at your school.
9. Find a Mentor - If reaching out to a variety of people for advice seems overwhelming, try finding a mentor. With a mentor, you can form a closer, longer-term relationship. Some people turn to mentors for occasional specific advice, while others meet weekly or monthly to discuss life paths. U.S. News has 13 helpful tips on how to find a mentor.
10. Don’t Limit Yourself - Don’t restrict your networking and socializing to your chosen major or profession. Outside interests, whether hobbies or activism, are also a great way to meet people and form networks. Many people find jobs through friends they met randomly at a protest or in a knitting class.