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Connect and Conquer: A College Student’s Guide to Professional Networking

As a college student, the thought of getting your foot in the door with a dream company or career can seem daunting. While it is still important to have a strong academic record and relevant involvement, there is another crucial aspect that makes all the difference: networking.

Some of the many benefits of networking include securing an internship/full-time position, finding mentors and advisors, developing skills and personal development, and personal branding.

Below is a complete guide to professional networking as a college student covering three topics:

  1. Networking Events

  2. Social Media

  3. Staying in Touch

In each section, there will be tangible tips and strategies to help you connect with other professionals in your field and conquer your career goals.

1. Networking Events

Description: One of the top ways to increase your professional network is by attending networking events. When attending these events, there is a surplus of professionals in your chosen field, and you can learn about current industry trends and best practices and possibly even land an internship or full-time role. Some examples of networking events available to everyone include career fairs, guest lectures, professional organization meetings, professional mixers, and alumni events.

Pro Tip: Elevator Pitch

Going to a networking event can sound intimidating, so let me set you up for success. When approaching a professional, especially at an event like a career fair or professional mixer, it is imperative to have an elevator pitch prepared. This will allow the professional to get a glimpse into your life in a short period of time, as they usually have a lot of students to talk with during each event. Below is a template you can use to formulate an impressive elevator pitch when approaching a professional:

Template: “Hi, my name is [your name], and I'm a [your year and your major] student at [your university]. I'm passionate about [your area of interest or expertise], and I'm actively seeking an internship/full-time position in [your desired field]. I have [relevant experience or skills], and I'm excited to bring my enthusiasm and dedication to a team that shares my values. I'm really impressed with your company, especially the work related to [add a specific part of the company you find interesting from prior research]. Do you have any advice for how I can break into this field or any opportunities that might be a good fit for someone with my background?”

2. Use Social Media

Description: Another efficient way to increase your professional network is to utilize social media, specifically leveraging the power of LinkedIn. LinkedIn allows anyone to build an online professional presence by displaying their skills, experience, and interests to potential employers. It also can be a fantastic tool for connecting with professionals in the field of your interest as well as finding mentorship opportunities and valuable advice.

Pro Tip: LinkedIn Message

When connecting with a professional you meet at networking events, it is essential to stand out from the hundreds of others this professional has communicated with. Professionals will likely not connect with you in return if they don’t know how they know you. When accessing LinkedIn from the computer, you can “add a note” when connecting with an individual. This will allow you to remind the professional who you are and why you would like to stay in touch, heightening the chances that they accept your request and become part of your LinkedIn network. Remember, you are limited to 130 characters to formulate a concise message to get your point across. Below is a template to use when adding a note to your connection request on LinkedIn:

Template: “Hi [Professional's Name], it was great meeting you at [Networking Event Name]! I am currently looking for an internship/full-time role for [list when you would like the internship/full-time role to begin]. I'd love to stay in touch and learn about future opportunities at [Company Name]. Thanks! [Your Name].”

3. Follow Up and Stay in Touch

Description: It is crucial to follow up and stay in touch with professionals you’ve met. After you connect through LinkedIn or email, it is just as essential to continue to nurture this relationship by sending follow-up messages or emails with updates about your professional career. It is easy for a professional to forget about you in the hundreds of interactions, so make a conscious effort to reach out and show that this relationship is important and valuable to you. If executed correctly, you can build long-lasting relationships, opening doors to new opportunities in your chosen field.

Pro Tip: Coffee Chat/Informational Interview

Once you have spent time building a relationship with said professional, you can ask to meet personally or virtually for a coffee chat/informational interview. If you have spent the time showing that this relationship is important to you, the professional will want to give you their time as they will see the value of talking with you as well. I recommend asking for a coffee chat once the application opens for the internship/full-time role you are interested in. Coffee chats usually last 30 minutes or less, so come prepared with specific questions about the company, application process, personal experience, and best application practices. Below is a template to ask over LinkedIn or email for a coffee chat:

Template: “Hi [Professional's Name], I hope this message finds you well. I noticed that [Company] is beginning to accept applications for [Internship/Full-time Role] and would greatly appreciate advice or recommendations you may have for the application process. I understand your time is valuable, and I would be thankful for the opportunity to meet with you for a [15/30] minute coffee chat. Please let me know if this is something that could work for you, and we can schedule a time that is convenient for you. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing back from you soon. Best regards, [Your Name].”

Remember, networking at its core is all about building relationships, not just clicking a button to connect with someone on LinkedIn or listening to a professional speak during class. Make an effort to have engaging conversations, learn from their journeys, absorb the knowledge, and follow up with a thank-you message. By going the extra mile to make genuine connections, you will position yourself to conquer your professional future.

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