College is an ideal time to start building your professional network. While you are completing a degree program, it is important to not only learn industry-specific skills, but also the soft skills necessary to be successful. Luckily, most colleges have a career services department with a knowledgeable staff who can assist you in preparing for a career in any field.
In addition to meeting with the career services staff regularly, consider the following ways to build your professional network while in college.
1. Leave a Lasting Impression
One of the most important things you can do to build your professional network while in college is to make a positive impression with those who you interact with. It’s no secret that those who are well-connected are much more willing to recommend someone they like.
As many of your instructors have previously worked in your career field of interest, they are likely to be connected with various professionals. Make an effort to participate frequently in class, allowing your instructors a chance to see your interest. Also, be sure to keep in contact with your instructors through the duration of your college experience and following graduation.
Treat any volunteer or internship work you complete during college as though it were a job. If the individuals you work with as part of these experiences think favorably of you, they could provide a job recommendation or even offer a position if one comes available at their organization.
2. Participate in Networking Groups or Events
Networking groups provide a great opportunity to take a strategic approach to meeting the types of professionals you want to have in your network. Many local networking groups feature industry-specific events that will attract professionals from an industry.
Pay attention to events happening on and off campus, as they can serve as great networking opportunities. For example, if your college is hosting a panel of professionals from the industry you hope to work in, be sure to attend and connect with the participants following the event.
3. Attend Career Fairs
Even if you are not currently looking for a job, career fairs are a fantastic way to connect with several professionals in a relatively short amount of time. Because many professionals attend with the hopes of landing a job, the environment at a career fair promotes discussion. Attend career fairs that your college hosts, but also look into local public career fairs. Public career fairs can be hosted by industry organizations, Chambers of Commerce and employment agencies, and can be broad or industry-specific.
While attending a career fair, be sure to bring with you the following items:
- Several copies of your resume
- Business cards (you can make your own personal business card)
- Pen and paper
- Folder to keep paperwork, business cards, etc.
4. Join Student Clubs
Many colleges offer student clubs or groups that are specific to a field of study. These groups meet regularly to host fundraisers, attend events and more. Activities completed by student clubs can be ideal situations for networking. It is common for student groups to have professionals from their industry visit them to discuss industry information, career tips, etc. Student clubs also allow you to get to know other students who are completing the same degree and who can be great connections throughout your career.
Keep in mind that the earlier you start to build your professional network, the more robust it will be when you need it most!