If you’re at the beginning or middle of your post-secondary journey, let’s be real; networking probably isn’t at the forefront of your mind right now. You’re just trying to survive your gender studies or bio-chem class without feeling nauseous or trying to finish your essay that’s due tomorrow. But picture this: the future you walking across the stage at graduation, not having to worry about finding a job because you networked with other people and already landed a job! Doesn’t that sound amazing? Now the question is: where do you begin? Let’s break down eight simple networking tips you can start doing right now while you’re in post-secondary. If the idea of networking is intimidating to your introverted self, you’re not alone. With a little motivation, dedication, practice, and a walk out of your comfort zone for a bit, you can start building and growing your network circle during your everyday activities. Imagine if you start conversing with your professors during their office hours. Even your classmates are valuable as you continue to make personal and potentially future professional connections. Chances are your campus has a career center, and Indigenous students’ association full of free resources. You might be thinking, “do I really need these resources?” Well, yes, you actually do!
Keep in touch with your profs & classmates
Your professors probably have taught quite a few bright students in the past and odds are they may still be in touch with some of their former students. For example, sometimes those former students will email their former professors with links to job openings. Being courageous and talking to your professors on a regular basis helps keep your name in their minds when questions come up about needing to find a job. Of course, today your classmates might be wearing pajamas to classes and look like they just got out of bed…but who knows where they might land after graduation. Wouldn’t it be nice to build a unique relationship with them now? One day they might just work at your dream company, and you can say, “Hey! Remember me from your 2nd-year calculus class?”
Get involved on campus
There are several benefits when it comes to getting involved on campus that aren’t just related to future career aspirations. For example, you’ll make friends, you can add another item to your resume, have some fun, broaden your world view, challenge your mindset, and, of course, build your network. There are a ton of ways to get involved on campus through established clubs and associations. Although sororities and fraternities aren’t as prevalent at Canadian post-secondary schools, there might be one at your school. Varsity or recreational intramural sports are great too, especially if you’re on the path of being a student athlete. If you can’t find one to join, you could start your own club or team – or, if you’re extra ambitious, start a sorority or fraternity if that floats your canoe or kayak. (Hey, why not start a canoe and kayak club!) 😉 If you name it or build it, they will come. Not only will you be able to connect with other students, but you’ll also be able to connect with speakers, advisors and mentors. Start going to things where there’s something else going on but you still have an opportunity to meet people.
Be a little bit wary if you’re going to an event that has Networking in the title. This kind of event can be one of the more difficult places to be because it’s often full of people who want to show up make one quick contact, get a job, and then never talk to you again — they’re not interested in relationships. If you really want to achieve something, it has to be about building that relationship meaningfully so that it becomes about reciprocity as well. Having said that, if your campus has a networking fair or a job fair, just go already! It’s part of that practice you’ll need to introduce yourself and see what’s out there. Bring a friend or three. That’s the school’s way of literally handing you a bowl full of contacts that you can network with.
Visit your campus career centre
Hopefully your campus has a career centre or something similar where you can find internships or jobs posted by alumni. You’ll also likely get tips on how to build your online presence, get a chance to participate in mock job interviews – which are so helpful, by the way – and learn about upcoming job fairs. Even if you aren’t actively looking for a job right now, it can’t hurt to stop by these job fairs, shake hands with company recruiters, give them your resume, have conversations and learn what’s going on in their industry. Most importantly, it gives you a chance to speak with someone who’s working there already about the culture and advantages of working at that company.
Develop your online presence
No, we’re not just talking about your TikTok account. 😉 If the idea of talking to strangers makes your hands and feet and neck a little sweaty, don’t worry; you can also network from behind your computer. A fairly simple yet effective way to start building your online presence is through LinkedIn. Depending on your industry of interest and academic program, you might also want to make a website or start an online portfolio. This is perfect if you want to go into some of a creative field such as the arts, interior design, landscape architecture, graphic design or another field that requires a lot of testimonials and samples of your talents. You can also leverage social media as long as your profiles are pristine and have a professional appearance. With any luck your school might even have an alumni group on Facebook, and these can certainly be helpful. Typically, alumni will post job openings to help their fellow undergrads or former sports team members. Establishing a networking connection can happen anywhere. So, be prepared and open for any opportunity.
Be accessible to new connections
Maybe you’re waiting in the line at the cafeteria and you overhear a professor talking about something that you are familiar with. Put on your big person pants and recognize that there’s your chance to politely chime in. Or if you’re in line at the school coffee shop and you hear a fellow student chatting about a guest lecturer or club you weren’t aware of that’s going to start. There are always opportunities to network; you just have to be willing to put yourself out there and start conversing. As always, you never know what could happen. Imagine that, by being brave, the best thing that could happen is that you meet someone interesting, build some sort of relationship, and then possibly get a great job opportunity – just by striking up a conversation with a random stranger in close proximity.
Don’t be afraid to make the first move
Confidence can go a long way. If you don’t think you are a confident person, than just pretend you are confident. Fake it until you make it. Don’t treat networking like a game of who can make the most connections or how many resumes you can pass around. Instead, genuinely take interest in who you’re talking with, who they are and what they do. Always try to remember important information about them and, if you’re having trouble keeping a conversation flowing, start asking some thoughtful questions about them. People love to talk about themselves and show that they know something valuable. Try asking, “do you currently have any pets?” Or “what does your ideal vacation look like?” Ask, “what are you most proud of accomplishing?” in order to really get them to talk about themselves and hopefully lead you to some insight about their career.
Maintain your network
It can’t be emphasized enough that networking is more than collecting business cards, handing out resumes, and sending contact requests via LinkedIn. It’s going to take a bit of work, dedication, and practice. You’ll want to invest some time and energy in maintaining your network. If you meet someone at a job fair, shoot them an email as soon as possible afterwards. Indicate to them that it was a pleasure meeting them, and that even if they don’t have your ideal position available right now, let them know you appreciated the time they took to talk to you. If you really want them to remember you, add in something personal that you learned from them while the two of you were chatting. This will not only show that you paid attention but that you also learned something valuable from them.
Make yourself memorable
For the extra-introverted folks hiding out in the back behind the taller people in the room, here’s a special tip for you. If you’re too nervous to approach other people, there’s still things that you can do to draw people to you. For example, if you have a distinctive style or if you have a T-shirt that you know people always comment on, try using that. Once they’ve approached you to talk about your interesting look, ask them something simple yet effective about themselves like, “What do you hope to find at this event?” As they’re explaining this to you, start considering whom you know from your own network that is also seeking something similar, so reciprocity comes into play.
So, these are our six tips when it comes to networking while at post-secondary. Remember to always be yourself or at least a reasonable facsimile. Be brave enough to strike up a conversation at any moment; you never know what one conversation can lead to. Be authentic, be humble and genuine. Things will surely work out for you. Indspire’s Rivers to Success has several resources and mentors who can help in this area and several others. Check them out here: Rivers to Success – Building Your Career Portfolio