Building a network now will fuel your career down the road.
It’s never too early to start networking. Although so much of college is about academics and having a social life, it’s also the perfect time to start building contacts to jump start your professional development. If you want a leg up on jobs or internships when it comes to that time, you needed to begin networking yesterday.
If you think networking can start after college, think again. Now is the perfect time to build relationships that will help you launch your first business or fuel your entire career. Here are 11 tips to help you get started:
1. Adopt the right frame of mind.
The first step is to adopt the right mindset. It is important to understand that networking doesn’t depend on how much experience you have or how old you are.
Your end goal should be to build relationships that are mutually beneficial, where you can provide value to the people you meet and they can be a resource for advice or even provide career stepping stones. Once you get over the fear of if networking is worth your time or someone else’s, the possibilities are endless.
2. Play the student card.
Always begin by using the “I’m a college student” opening. People are more likely to help you while you’re a student because there’s less pressure on their end to help you get a job. They know you’re just looking for advice (right now), so responding to you is pressure free. Reach out to these contacts now because if you network right, they’ll still be there if you want help when you transition to the work world.
Now is the time to cold email people you admire. It may be intimidating to reach out to someone you have absolutely no connection with, but most people in the world really want to help others. What do you have to lose? The worst that could happen is that they don’t reply and is that really that bad?
3. Use LinkedIn.
LinkedIn isn’t known as a business and employment-oriented social networking service for nothing. USE IT! I’ve had so many people tell me they aren’t on LinkedIn because they “aren’t old.” Guess what else they aren’t? Getting a job.
Connect with everyone, send people respectful messages asking to learn more about their work, and maintain those relationships. It will show you have a take-charge attitude and it will get you noticed.
4. Tell everyone what your dream job is.
Figure out where you want to work or even just what type of job you want to have, and let the world know! Once you get in the habit of telling random people your passions, it becomes second nature - you never know who they know. Tell your dentist, your uber driver, your friend’s aunt, your Starbucks barista. Tell everyone.
This technique has really worked for me. As my chiropractor was snapping my ribs back in place a few months ago, I mentioned that I wanted to work for a specific company. Guess what? His fraternity brother from college works there now and my chiropractor was able to connect me with his buddy by texting him saying he knew a great candidate. It’s amazing how much a mutual connection can help you get in the door.
5. Invest in networking books.
Buy these books: Never Eat Alone, The Start-up of You, How to Talk to Anyone: 92 Little Tricks for Big Success in Relationships, Wait, How Do I Write This Email?.
There’s a reason thousands of people are buying these networking books: they work. Don’t be the only one in the dark about that secret/genius tip; treat yourself to a few new books.
6. Do an internship.
Networking can help you get an internship, and then using the network you built at your internship can help you build an even bigger network. An internship is also the perfect way to get your food in the door and even if it doesn’t end in a job, it can lead you to other opportunities. Those other opportunities will help your network continue to grow.
7. Talk to recent graduates.
Recent graduates from your university are the people who remember very clearly what you’re going through. Maybe they graduated last May or a few years ago but regardless, it’s fresh in their minds how tough it was to be a college student and want to start a career for yourself. They will be eager to help you out!
Although the younger alumni may not have as many high-level contacts as older alumni, they probably have more time to email you back or pick up the phone to have a conversation with you. Don’t knock ‘em, they’re a great resource.
8. Ask for an informational interview.
Ask for an informational interview with your professors, someone you met at your internship or someone you overhear talking about their work in a local coffee shop. An informational interview is different from a regular interview because instead of it being focused on you, an informational interview is all about asking the other person about their work and how they got there. This can take place via email or on the phone. Either way, it’s a way of establishing contacts that can show their true value when you want to launch your career.
9. Be cognizant of your image and use social media strategically.
Sooooo many employers use social media to filter out (and in) candidates before inviting them for face-to-face interviews. The content on your social media through the college years needs to reflect where you want to go in life. Even if that means locking down your personal Twitter and creating a public/professional one, do it. You need a presence online that shows you’re serious about your future. This is also a great way to connect with professionals and see what trends are happening in your industry-of-choice in real-time.
10. Take advantage of pre-professional student organizations on campus.
Odds are, your school has a pre-professional organization or sorority/fraternity for your major. If they don’t there is probably one offered that is similar enough to provide you with some value. These organizations are a great time to hang out with people who are passionate about the same things as you are while also building your network. If they’re really involved in a pre-professional organization now, they’ll most likely be really involved in the field years to come.
11. Take advantage of your parents' friends and your friends' parents.
You parents’ friends and your friends’ parents have decades of experience and are probably willing to share their experiences with you. These people are well connected, and they may even have a few contacts at your dream workplace – but you’ll never know if you don’t reach out. Next time you’re around them, strike up a conversation and tell them what you want to do with your life. It might be the most important conversation you ever have.
No matter what you want to do in life, building a network now will make life much easier down the road. Build up the confidence to take the first step and reach out, and you’re halfway there.