With class assignments, extracurricular involvement, off-campus jobs and maintaining a social life, it can be hard to remember or make time to think about your future. Networking in college is a critical step to starting a career that aspiring professionals must take, yet is easily forgotten. Networking is important for a variety of reasons and while it may seem daunting, is actually made quite accessible in college.
Networking provides new knowledge that students can’t always get from classroom learning. When connecting with professionals who have years of experience, you can learn about new industry trends and practices. Also, your connections can give you tips on how to succeed as a professional, whether that be through reviewing your resume or practicing interview questions with you. I have found it helpful to ask people about the questions they were asked in their interviews and how they responded so that I can think about my own answers. Learning how to communicate professionally is also a valuable skill that comes out of networking, as college students can easily forget their etiquette when writing emails or dealing with colleagues.
The more people that you know, the more people know you. By networking, you are giving yourself a better chance of standing out among your peers. Opportunities grow exponentially when you connect with people in your industry and you never know when you’re going to meet the right person at the right time to help you land a job that you would like. If you can prove your passion and skills to someone and you are on the forefront of their mind, there is a better chance of them making you aware of positions before they are made public or a job can even be created for you. For example, my previous internship in the communications department at Northrop Grumman all started because my dad met a woman in an elevator and introduced her to me. From there, I demonstrated my interest in her work and backed it up with my portfolio, ultimately helping me get a job working for her.
While figuring out how to network may be overwhelming, there are many resources available that college students can take advantage of. Although being in the middle of a pandemic has made traditional networking more difficult, there are still plenty of ways to connect virtually. LinkedIn is one of the best ways to start your search for connections. In the past, I have found success searching for people with jobs at organizations that I am interested in working for and reaching out to see if they would be willing to answer my questions, either via email or a call. People, especially young professionals or recent graduates, are usually more than willing to give you information and advice. JMU also has an extensive network of current and former students, so attempting to find alumni specifically when searching for connections is a great way to have a pre-established common point of interest. Ultimately, it never hurts to ask because simply getting no response is the worst response you can get. Attending webinars is also a great way to find individuals to connect with. Following up with the hosts or presenters of an event by thanking them for the things that you learned from them is also an easy way you can make a personal connection.
Even though networking with others and marketing yourself to professionals may seem intimidating, it goes a long way in your post-grad job search and will make it easier to find yourself exactly where you want to be.