Networking is a term that is often used in the business world. It refers to actively building relationships with a variety of people who can help you, and whom you can help. Networking in college or in a career is a lot like social networking, but instead of building a network of personal friends, you are building a network of professional relationships. Many people that you would not necessarily choose to build a close personal relationship with can be valuable parts of your professional network.
Many times, students aren’t introduced to the idea of networking until they are about ready to graduate and it is time to get a job. Unfortunately, that’s way too late. It is hard to start networking when you already need something. The time to start building your network is now, so that when you need it, it will already be there.
Building a network isn’t just about getting a job, either; it can be amazingly helpful during your time in college, too. You can get help when you have problems or questions, and find out things you didn’t know about places to live, activities on campus, and so on. Getting an education isn’t just about acquiring knowledge and skills in the field you are studying — it’s also about learning to work with people and build mutually beneficial relationships. Sometimes it isn’t only what you know, but who you know that matters.
For most people, building a network takes conscious effort. You need to seek out opportunities to get to know lots of different people. Then make an effort to have a conversation, remember names, get contact information, and be friendly when you see someone you’ve talked with again. (Of course, this doesn’t mean you should maintain contact with someone you don’t feel comfortable associating with.)
Make sure to include people who are different from you in age, race, physical or mental abilities, and so on. It is OK to start out by approaching people who seem most like you, but if you stop there, you will be missing a much wider world. It is normal for teenagers to hang out with people who talk, think, and act just like them, but a mature person seeks to become comfortable with a variety of people. Remember, everyone needs to feel noticed and connected.
How do I get to know people?
For some people, talking and connecting with others comes naturally, while others have to work at it. Here are some tips to help you get to know people and have positive interactions with them.
- SMILE when you are talking to people. It is always more pleasant to converse with someone who seems happy.
- Remember people’s NAMES. Nearly everyone is “bad with names,” so don’t use this as an excuse. It takes a conscious effort to connect a name with a face and remember it the next time you see the person. It can be helpful to make some kind of mental connection between the name and face, such as “Susan, same as my cousin in Cedar City, also has curly hair.”
- Ask questions that will give people a chance to talk about themselves. Nearly everyone loves to tell their stories. Build a repertoire of questions that you can ask people when you first meet them.
- Be willing to share appropriate information about yourself. People generally feel most comfortable when there is a give and take of information.
- Listen when the other person is talking. Don’t just wait for them to finish while planning in your head what to say next. Ask further questions about what they say, instead of immediately turning the conversation back to yourself.
- Avoid being negative. Bonding by criticizing someone or something (a class, a professor, the university) may feel good at the moment, but it doesn’t usually lead to positive relationships.
- Try to DISCOVER something you don’t know that the other person can teach you, then ask him or her about it. Assume everyone you meet can teach you something. You’ll learn about all kinds of things!
- Look for opportunities to help someone out. Even little things like holding a door for someone whose hands are full or picking up something someone drops create a positive environment, not only for you and the person who you helped, but everyone who sees it. If you can help solve someone else’s problem, you never know when they may be able to turn around and help you.
- ASK for help. Whenever you have a problem, use it as an opportunity to make new connections. Who can you talk with that might have a solution or a resource you don’t know about?
What kinds of people can I have in my network?
Everyone’s networks look different. The key to building a good college network is to consider how you could make connections in each of the following areas.
Friends from home or high school
Who did you know before you came here? Be on the lookout for students from your home town, your high school, and so on. Even if they weren’t people you hung out with there, reach out to them and see what happens.
Roommates and neighbors
If you live with other DSU students, make sure to get to know them. You can make friends in nearby apartments as well. If you don’t live with students, put the word out in your neighborhood and let any nearby relatives know that you are attending the university. You may be surprised to find others who are as well.
Students in your classes
Put away your phone and talk to the students sitting next to you before class starts. Ask about an assignment or a concept in the class or where they are from and what they want to study. Once you find someone you are comfortable with, exchange contact information. Get notes from him or her if you are absent or form a study group to go over notes, discuss reading, or study for a test. Besides being useful, it can make it much more pleasant to go to class if you will see people there you know. Don’t wait for someone else to start a conversation or invite you to a study group — take the initiative.
Students in your major
As you find yourself in the classes for your major with the same people, make a special effort to get to know them. You can coordinate study schedules, share information about professors and get tips on opportunities like internships, visits from recruiting schools, etc. It can also be very valuable to seek out students who are near the end of the degree and ask for their advice and insights.
Students who share your interests
There are many ways to find other students who like the things you do. Join a club, go to athletic events or music performances, or get involved in student government. It doesn’t all have to be about classes; getting to know students in other majors can give you insights and information from across campus.
While you are building relationships with other students, don’t forget your professors. They are a valuable source of all kinds of information. In class, make a good impression by being a responsible student, asking questions, participating appropriately, and so on. To make personal contact, meet with them in their offices with questions about the course or the fields they are teaching. Make a special effort to get to know professors who are teaching in fields that you are interested in. As opportunities arise, work with them on research, projects, performances, and so on.
Besides professors, you can build relationships with many other university employees. When you have a problem and need to go to Registration, Advising, Financial Aid, and so on, remember that the person behind the desk didn’t create the problem but is there to help you solve it. Be courteous to secretaries (now often called administrative assistants), custodians, and grounds crew — they help keep things going for you as well as everyone else. Getting to know the people in the Career Center can be a big help and seeking help from librarians can be particularly profitable.
Professionals in your field
As you progress in your degree, look for opportunities to meet and connect with professionals who are working in your field outside the university. Ask your professors if they can make any introductions. Seek out businesses in the area (or wherever you wish to live) to find people who are working in this field. Work part time, seek out internships, or get involved in your field in other ways.