It’s your first day at college and you’re off exploring Welcome Week with your friends and roommate. Sure, the first few days and maybe even the first year give you the opportunity to explore your new home where you’ll likely be for the next four or five years. Spoiler alert: college, while a thrilling and exciting experience, is not all fun and games. Many of us attend universities and colleges to earn a degree and have job opportunities in areas of interest when we graduate. However, as more and more people earn a degree, graduating isn’t enough. Make the most of your time in college by building a lasting network and using it effectively as you approach graduation. A little lost? Here’s how to do it.
Build a Great Network
In order to build a great network while in college, you need to make the most of the opportunities in front of you. With so many people from a wide range of background with a wide range of aspirations, there are plenty of opportunities for you to connect with others. While students often focus on making friends, study partners and doing well in class, they can’t ignore the end goal of a fulfilling job upon graduation.
- Tap into other industries. Sure, you may be a marketing major who wants to work at an ad agency, but those types of companies aren’t your only option. Connect with students, professors and others in different fields.
- Take on internships. If you don’t have work experience, chances are you’ll need to start with an unpaid opportunity or one that requires you receive course credit. No matter how you are financially or scholastically rewarded, internships can help you gain experience and allows you to connect with more people.
- Get involved on campus. Join a club, team, Greek organization or research lab. If an activity relates to your major, career goals or allows you to connect with driven individuals, it’s an opportunity worth looking in to.
- Conduct informational interviews. One way to build your network is to sit down and talk with those doing what you’d like to do or working for a company you’re interested in. Doing this isn’t always easy, so reaching out about an informational interview for your personal interest allows you to connect and start a working relationship.
When you are in an internship for a startup company, interesting class or job, make sure to connect with those around you. Offer to help out in other departments, stop in your professor’s office hours for a quick chat related to the class and reach out to higher-ups. You want to be remembered by each individual in a positive light that positions you as someone capable of both leading and following, working with others and someone who they would be comfortable recommending to others.
Make the Most of Your Connections
In order to keep the relationships you’re building flourishing, some maintenance is required. Touch base with individuals you’ve found to be great resources for opportunities, information, etc., but keep in mind that networking is about building connections. These connections can’t be all about you. Just as you’d like to have these people as resources, you should be able to be a resource for them, whether it’s recommending a new intern, contributing to a class discussion, or sending relevant information their way. Make the most of your connections by treating them like a friend or business connection.
- Stay in touch. While the manager of your job sophomore year may be a great connection, you may not need to reach out until senior year. Make sure you reconnect with those in your network every now and then so you aren’t forgotten and they can see your progress.
- Make sure the relationship is mutually beneficial. Just as you hope to be able to call on others when you’re looking for your next internship or job, make sure others can do the same. When graduation is right around the corner, people you’ve helped are unlikely to forget and will view you as a valuable connection and should be willing to help.
- Reconnect with old leaders. It could be an ex-manager or organization advisor. While in college, look for leadership roles or the opportunity to connect with leaders around you. As graduation approaches, reach out to these people to let them know you’re graduating and you’re looking for a grad school reference or job opportunity.
Building a successful network in college means building lasting relationships with those around you. Don’t just reach out to those in your immediate spheres. Branch out and connect with people from other majors, industries and positions on campus. When graduation approaches, you want to make sure you’ve positioned yourself as someone that another could recommend. Networking is about building a relationship that will be mutually beneficial and isn’t lost after some time. Meet, reconnect every now and then, and be a great resource so that when the time comes for you to ask for help at graduation, you have connections that are willing to do so.