Have you ever heard the saying, It’s not about what you know, but who you know ?
Welcome to networking.
Networking is actually quite simple — it’s about building a group of colleagues and friends in the same industry as you. That means connecting with your boss and coworkers, people you meet at conferences and conventions, and anyone who might be in the same field as you.
Doing this in college is one of the most important things you can do for your career, but for someone just getting started, it might feel a little bit daunting. It’s actually not as hard as you might think — whether you’re still in high school or already in college, you can take some of the following steps now.
Get a LinkedIn profile.
LinkedIn is a professional networking site where you can keep up with the latest industry news, add coworkers or employers, display your professional achievements and find jobs. If you don’t already have a profile, make one now, and start connecting with people you know.
Talk to your professors.
Professors can provide valuable insight into your field of study, and they make great references. Talking with them ensures that you won’t just be another face in the crowd or a name on a roster. Ideally, keep in contact with them via email as well. Ask about new developments in the field or bring up articles to chat about.
Join a club.
Clubs are a great way to network and gain experience while also having fun. You can join a professional society, club or fraternity, such as one that caters to your field of interest. But even if it’s just a club for entertainment and socializing, holding an officer position is something you can add to a resume.
Make friends with your classmates.
Your classmates are going to be in the same field as you, and you might end up working with many of them. Don’t be afraid to invite them to events you’re going to or work on professional projects with them outside of class.
Attend conferences, conventions, networking events and job fairs.
Attending events can be an exciting part of networking. Imagine going to a place where everyone is passionate about the same things that you are. At some gatherings, cutting-edge ideas are presented that you won’t hear about in class, and you can talk at ease with others who know what you’re talking about. Ask your professors about sponsoring a trip to a local conference or convention. Often, colleges have opportunities for students to apply for grants or other funding to attend conferences. Keep an eye out for emails from advisors and professors about networking and job fair events. Don’t forget to bring an up-to-date copy of your resume and possibly some business cards, and then try to keep up with the people you meet at these events (LinkedIn really helps here).
Obtain an internship.
Interning is one of the best ways to build a professional network and gain a foothold in your industry. There’s a stereotype that interns are glorified coffee delivery systems, but a good internship won’t be like that (talk to someone in the career center at your university to learn more about separating the good opportunities from the bad). As you work your internship, do everything you can to make yourself stand out. Get to know your boss and coworkers. Go out of your way to ask for work to do or to be a part of new projects and training sessions.
Find a mentor.
This one is a bit tricky, as it sometimes happens organically and sometimes can be more formal. A lot of people in the industry, especially those who have been in it for a while, are eager to pay it forward. While you’re working hard in class or at an internship or on your own, try to find a person you click with who can help guide you in your career. When you meet with them, make the best use of their time. Take them out for coffee. Prepare questions about the industry or their work. This person could be one of your most powerful contacts and references in the future.
Take a chance.
Some of the best networking opportunities come from simply getting out of your comfort zone. Send an email to the head of the IT department, asking questions about something you’re learning in class. Approach your school’s marketing director and tell them who you are and what you do, and ask if there’s anything you can do for them. Get a hold of a local artist’s contact information and ask if they’d like to critique your work. It’s scary, but it’s so worth it, and many are excited to pass their knowledge along or help an eager young person break into the field. This is especially true of people with ties to your university. At one point in their lives, they were in the same place as you.
is a senior at UNC studying journalism and writing, with an emphasis in news and multimedia. He has a passion for marketing, technology and writing, and hopes to work in marketing after he graduates. When he's not at work, he likes to listen to music, read, study, write and spend time with friends.