The Secrets and Importance of Building Your Professional Network in College

Earning your college degree is important. But there’s one thing that’s almost as important that many college students overlook – building a professional network.

As you’ve heard, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. It sounds cliche, but it’s true. Great careers are built on great relationships.

Building your network early while in college will give you a head start on the competition after you graduate. Work to establish relationships that will help you advance your career. Without professional relationships, your degree alone might not be enough to land you that job.

It takes time and effort to build your professional network while in college, but the payoff is well worth it.

Here are 5 tickets to make it a little easier.

1. Take Advantage of Part-Time Jobs and Internships

A simple part-time job or internship can be a huge step in advancing your career. And it’s not just about what you learn or what you do in those roles – it’s about the people you meet along the way.

With a part-time job or internship, you can build experience, build your resume, and meet people who may be able to help you find your dream job down the road.

It’s best to try to find a job that’s relevant to your intended career path, but that doesn’t mean you should pass on one because it isn’t. Lots of people change career paths throughout their lives, and you may too. Rather than focusing on the specific role, focus on a particular skill set and make sure you’re building a professional network.

To build and maintain a strong network, you have to make it a point to keep in touch with co-workers and former bosses. You never know when one of them might come across the perfect job opportunity for you.

2. Join Clubs and Engage in Student Activities

Bars and parties aren’t the only places where you can make friends. You can also meet people through academic clubs, professional clubs, and volunteer organizations.

Friends you make at these sort of activities are perfect for building your professional network. With your common interests, you can motivate one another, challenge each other, and provide support. Not to mention, people you participate in clubs are the types of go-getters you want to know in life.

3. Treat Your Professors Like Future Peers

Though it may seem unusual to become friendly with your professors, they can be integral parts of your professional network. Don’t think of them the way you thought of your high school teachers. Instead, think of them as future peers – because they will be.

Visit your professors during office hours. Ask them for advice, not only in class, but in life. Letting your professors know your professional interests could lead to an introduction down the road.

Keep it professional while you’re a student in their class, but when the semester ends, don’t let your relationship end with it.

Connect with your professors on LinkedIn, save their email address, and drop them a line every once in a while. You never know who they know and how they might be able to help you.

4. Reach Out to Companies You Want to Work For

Don’t wait until you graduate to start connecting with companies you want to work for. Reach out to the companies you have interest in while you’re still in school. Even if graduation is several years away, it’s never too early to start connecting with the people who work where you want to work.

See if you can secure an exploratory interview or an interview for an internship. Let your potential future employers know what you’re studying and why you want to work for them.

If you can get a face to face meeting, there is one key question you’ll want to ask: “what can I do now to make myself more employable in the future?” This question will leave a lasting impression and make the company realize that you are serious about the work you want to do.

Any time you meet with a representative of a company you admire, treat them with respect. Think of them as an advisor and mentor. That person just might become your boss or make the decision to hire you one day.

5. Take the Time to Stay in Touch

There’s no point in forming great relationships if you don’t maintain them. Make your connections and then make a point to stay in touch.

With email and social media, keeping in touch is easy to do. Creating relationships isn’t enough – you have to build them over time in order to really get the most out of them.

Stick to a routine where you email or send messages on a regular basis. Take the time to reach out to people you haven’t talked to in a while. And when you’re talking, make sure you’re listening.

If you really want to be professional (and you should), keep notes on your contacts and the conversations you have with them. By keeping track of what you’ve talked about in the past, you won’t end up asking repeat questions. Repeat questions will only make the person think you weren’t listening to them in the first place. The more connections you have in your network, the more important it is to do this.

Making the Most Of Your Time in College

As a college student, it’s important to forge friendships with people you can live with, laugh with, and hang out with. But it’s also crucial to start thinking about your future and building a solid professional network. Don’t waste your college years by spending all of your time partying and cramming during late night study sessions. Take the time to make connections with professors, potential employers, and other students in your field.

These connections can last for years and even decades, and they’re often a source for career advancement and job placement. It’s important to build your professional network early – you cannot wait until you graduate.

Meet as many people as you can in as many different situations. Surround yourself with people that can inspire you and provide professional support. And take the time to cultivate those relationships as the years go on. Regardless of your field or area of study, what you know is equally as important as who you know.

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