One of the most powerful ways to enhance your career development is through networking. Networking facilitates your growth as a professional and allows you to access a larger pool of opportunities and resources. The following list provides suggested strategies for improving your professional networking skills.
Build Your Network Before You Need It
In order to maximize the potential benefits of networking, it is important to begin developing connections before you actually need anything. Work to build sincere relationships and add value by contributing to the professional growth of others. It is far easier to “cash in” on an existing relationship than it is to ask for help from someone whom you have just met!
One of the most important networking activities is following up on connections that you make. After meeting someone at an event or having a conversation with another professional, send them a brief email thanking them for their time and saying how nice it was to meet them. If you come across a news article, professional connection, or other information that may be helpful to that person, it may be good to forward it to them. Remember, your network will be much stronger if you cultivate genuine relationships and work to add value to the careers of those you meet.
If you have not created a professional profile on LinkedIn (and kept it updated), you probably should! With over 100 million users around the world and an increasingly significant role in the hiring process, LinkedIn is a great way to begin enhancing your network. Check out the following resource for more information:
- LinkedIn Learning Center (Resource center with video guides for students, graduates, and job-seekers)
- The Ultimate LinkedIn Cheatsheet from LeisureJobs.com (also available for download in .pdf format)
Conduct Informational Interviews
Informational interviews are one-on-one conversations that you may have with professionals to learn more about their career. These exchanges can take place in person, over the phone, or even through email. Most people love helping students and sharing about themselves, so you should not feel weird about contacting professionals to get more information. Just keep a few things in mind: First, it is not acceptable to ask for a job during an informational interview. Secondly, be professional and courteous in all of your communications…and be sure to follow up with a polite thank-you note!
Internships and Volunteering
Interning and volunteering are both great ways to expand your network and build your resume! Since employers seek candidates with real knowledge of the workplace, it is highly recommended that you complete an internship during your time in school. If you are seeking a more flexible option, the UGA Career Center has an Intern for a Day program that allows students to job shadow for a day and develop new professional contacts. Offering to volunteer is also an excellent way to meet professionals and demonstrate your potential value as an employee. For more information, check out Career Center resources on finding an internship.
Connect to Campus Resources
As a student, you have a tremendous amount of networking resources at your disposal. Take advantage of the opportunities on campus! Attend Career Center programs and events sponsored by your department or college that provide you with a chance to meet other professionals (even if those professionals are students, staff, or faculty members). Student organizations also offer an excellent venue to expand your network. There are few other times in your life when you will have so many opportunities to grow as a person and a professional, so be proactive in your career development during your time on campus.
In addition, do not be afraid to seek out alumni on your own to expand your professional network. Alumni remember what it is like to be a student and they are usually happy to share information about their career path. Think of it this way: If a student from your old high school contacted you and wanted to learn about your experience as a college student, would you be willing to share your story? The answer is probably yes!
Utilize Professional Organizations
One excellent way to develop your network is by becoming involved in professional organizations related to your career goals. This may be state, regional, or national chapters of a professional society or a local community organization dedicated to a cause or industry that relates to your interests. Conduct research online, talk to professionals you know, or ask your professors to learn which organizations may be the best option for you. Many such organizations have resources specifically for students. Once you have some leads, keep in mind that you have to do more than just become a member if you hope to receive any networking benefits. Try to attend conferences, workshops, or other events, and you may even consider seeking an officer position and making a contribution to the organization.
Develop a Strategy
Based on the suggestions provided here and your own professional needs, begin thinking about how you might create a networking strategy. For instance, write down specific goals or timelines for networking objectives that you would like to achieve (example: “I will conduct two informational interviews by December 15.”). In addition, make a list of people – specific names or job titles – that you would like to meet. There is nothing wrong with going to a networking event with a specific goal in mind for who you would like to network with – just keep in mind that your connections need to be sincere!