You’ve heard the word before: networking. You have probably heard it from your professors or the Career Center at your school, and you most definitely have heard it in relation to some sort of event promising “networking opportunities.” But no matter how much you hear the word, you might still not be sure what it is — or even how to do it — so we’re offering some insight into what networking is, why you need to network while at university, and how to network effectively.
What is networking?
Networking is really just a fancy term for: “meeting new people and building relationships,” but with a mutual understanding that you can draw on those relationships for career advice or help. When someone talks about a “networking event,” it just means that the event is an opportunity to meet people who might be good resources as you explore career options or set career goals. Usually, at a “networking event,” you’ll be able to meet people in careers you aspire to have, or at companies you aspire to work for. When you meet people while networking, you might discuss your own career goals and ambitions, and learn more about how they navigated their own career path.
However, just because something is labeled a “networking event” doesn’t mean that those are the only opportunities to meet people who could become invaluable to your own career journey. If you’re out at a school event with alumni, faculty, or staff, then you can meet people who might be able to provide the same sort of career help as if you were at a networking-specific event. In fact, as you travel to new places, join clubs or start jobs, and make new connections and friends, you will naturally build relationships with people who might be able to help you with your career questions and journey. Conversely, you may become a resource for those connections as well, as they may turn to you for advice or insight into job opportunities.
Why do you need to network?
We know why building relationships is so important in other parts of your life. For example, your friends and family are there when you need help in all aspects of life. Your classmates are there when you need help studying or better understanding the course material to earn a good grade. So why should you network?
With networking, you build relationships with people who can help you navigate your career path. You can call upon these connections when you notice that they work for a company you’d like to work for, or if they have pursued a career path that you’re interested in. They can give you advice if you are looking for the best way to excel in your current job, such as addressing questions about getting a raise, going from an internship to a full-time job, or anything that comes up in relation to your career path and goals.
By building a robust network of business connections, you are securing helpful resources for your professional life. If you’re trying to secure an internship or a job after graduation, especially as an international student, you can ask the people you meet through networking if they have any leads for job opportunities, or if they can provide advice as you navigate the visa process. These connections may be able to help you better understand what the process is like timing securing your visa with securing your job, or they can point you in the direction of resources that could help you.
Ultimately, the people you meet through networking are there throughout your career journey – whether that’s in your first job after college, or as you pursue new opportunities in the years that follow. You maintain those relationships – and continually build new ones – to keep your network strong and relevant to your professional life’s needs.
How do you network?
The easiest way to network is by attending networking events hosted by your university (whether virtual or in-person). Often, the Career Center at your school will invite local businesses or alumni to attend an event and give students the chance to learn more about different job opportunities, what it’s like to work in certain career fields, and anything else that can help students with their professional life after graduation. You can also attend Career Fairs that are more obviously tied to your job search, but can still be an opportunity to meet new people, even if you’re not looking for a job at that exact moment. By attending a Career Fair, you can add new contacts to your network, and reach back out to those contacts when you are ready to job hunt or if you are looking for more information into that particular company or field.
Outside of your Career Center, sometimes university clubs or organizations, or even academic departments may also host similar events to assist students in creating these connections. They might label these events as networking events, but also look out for “career nights” or any time the club, organization, or academic department brings in a speaker or hosts another event. People from a relevant industry may attend regardless of whether it’s specifically for networking, and you can still introduce yourself to other attendees and add them to your network.
When you are at these networking events, there’s no need to be self-conscious. Everyone there understands that this event is to meet new people, and other attendees are likely there to grow their own network. Introduce yourself and be prepared to answer questions about: what you’re studying, what career field you’d like to pursue after university, and what you are most passionate about. If you get nervous meeting new people, you can practice your answers in advance, and you might consider developing an elevator pitch (a brief overview of your skills, experiences, and career goals) to make it easier to respond to these questions.
Another great way to maintain your network is through LinkedIn, of course. LinkedIn can be a great resource for reinforcing the relationships you make and grow through networking events or other opportunities for meeting people relevant to your career interests. After you meet someone through an event, ask if it’s okay to exchange contact information and then later, you can add them on LinkedIn. If there is someone you had a particularly good conversation with, make sure to follow-up with a thank-you and keep in contact with them to maintain the relationship – similar to how you would with a friend you might want to keep in touch with.
Networking doesn’t have to be scary or complicated. Just remember: networking is just another term for connecting with people who have career goals, experiences, and skills that you are looking to have or want to grow. And this is a mutually beneficial relationship! As you advance through your own career and develop your own skills and experiences, others can rely on you to help them as well.