Did you know that you already have contacts that can be considered part of your career development network? Congratulations!
The key is to turn those contacts into effective catalysts that are helping you achieve your career goals. Most professionals will attest that a robust network is crucial to long-term career support and success, and they employ networking as a central part of their business practices. Right now, no matter where you are in your studies or career, you have opportunity to create a valuable network. First, decide what your immediate goals are for networking – to gain an internship, full-time employment, or contacts for business partnerships? Your networking priorities will change over time, but as you develop your network, keep your specific goals in mind and genuinely target contacts who can help you achieve those goals.
Take advantage of the networking prospects you have access to right now
Your university connections: People at your university or who have an affiliation with the university offer a rich assortment of alliances for an immediate network. While still on campus or even as an alum, you are smart to direct networking efforts toward individuals and departments which can help move you closer to your career targets:
- Faculty who have industry contacts
- Clubs on campus that are in your area of interest
- Career coaches and career services office whose focus is to prepare you for and connect you with career opportunities.
Your online presence: Professionals utilize online tools and sites to solidify and develop their business networks. LinkedIn is an example of a professional networking site that is widely accepted by professionals. It is meant to increase your exposure rapidly and is easy to use for researching meaningful connections. Companies also use social media as a way to find out more about job applicants. A few keys to getting started:
- Clean up your existing social media to include only pictures and posts that promote your professional brand. This goes for all social media you are involved with, not just the site on which you are actively networking.
- Proactively connect with others. You can start by looking for people who attended your high school and college. Include alumnae as well as individuals you already know.
- Search for contacts and companies that make sense for your desired route. Conduct a search by company name, industry, title, etc. On LinkedIn, most industries list multiple groups that you can join as well, helping to target your efforts in a more precise direction and to a smaller online group.
Take one more meaningful step toward expanding your network
Join an industry association, professionals group, or chamber of commerce: Many member-based groups welcome student involvement and attendance at their events. Some even offer discounted memberships and organized mentoring and leadership development programs to students. Consider these associations as very fertile ground to cultivate your professional network for the present and the future. In-person networking garners huge benefits and moves relationships forward much faster than a solely online effort.
A network is a living being, always poised for growth. Authentic networking includes helping contacts in your network as much as you wish to receive help from them. Whether launching a career or already employed, you will find that with a well-tended network in place, opportunities are easier to locate or may even find you, and business partnerships develop very naturally. It’s never too early to start networking.