One of the most underrated but powerful career-building tools is networking. Professional networking is a great way to start building connections before graduation. It is not uncommon for graduates to secure a job opportunity through a professional connection they made in college. These connections also serve as an important bridge between the collegiate world and industry. Having a professional network means that you will have access to career guidance and industry insight, all within your reach.
We spoke to Stan Thompson from Bethel’s Office of Career Development and Calling about how to start networking. Here are 3 networking tips for those just getting started.
1. Build a professional online presence.
Social media has played a huge role in the networking process in the past decade. While having a Facebook or Instagram page will certainly establish your online presence, it is in your best interest to start thinking early about your professional online presence. A solid professional online presence can bolster a good first impression that may lead to many open doors.
LinkedIn is one platform you can use to put your best foot forward when it comes to a professional online presence. List your current education level and volunteering or internship experiences on your profile and LinkedIn’s algorithm will connect you with other users who have similar experiences.
Watch this video on networking with Bethel Alumni on LinkedIn that was produced by the Office of Career Development and Calling. You can also visit one of our previous blog posts for tips to optimize your LinkedIn profile, or read about how to get the best used out of the Groups feature on LinkedIn in this Muse article.
2. Reach out to alumni from your college.
Once you’ve started building a professional online presence, reach out to university alumni in your area. Don’t be afraid to make the first move by introducing yourself and asking for a meeting to hear their story. Professionals appreciate those who take initiative and aren’t afraid of putting themselves out there.
Schedule a 20-minute virtual or in-person meeting and ask thoughtful questions about their work and industry. You should also be prepared to share your career goals and ask them for an introduction and referral to someone else in their network. The best thing about this process is that it is replicable, according to authors Marcia Ballinger and Nathan Perez, who co-authored The 20-Minute Networking Meeting together.
3. Sign up for events and conferences.
Lastly, attend as many networking events as you can. Attending a job fair, an alumni event, or even industry events and conferences is a foolproof way to make great connections. Many people attend events like these expecting to meet eager and energetic students and graduates who are searching for connections. This is a great time to catch that prolific author or thought leader you’ve found inspiring and pick their brains for their expertise and experience. If you are a student and unsure about venturing too far away from campus, universities often invite guest speakers who visit campus and present in classes. Catch them in the hallway after a lecture or attend fireside chats to make an initial connection
Connections often take time, and one meeting will not be enough to build a strong relationship. Be ready to nurture a professional relationship for the long haul. It is definitely something worth putting time and effort into as it could lead to your dream job. The best thing is that networking can be done anywhere and anytime, so why not start today! Check out more resources on networking from the Office of Career Development and Calling.