The following is adapted from Ignite Your Career!
If the thought of standing in a crowded room and starting conversations with strangers makes your palms sweat, you’re not alone.
Networking can be a stressful, unpleasant experience, but here’s a secret: most people feel nervous doing it. Nonetheless, networking is a crucial part of forging valuable career relationships that can help you find and secure jobs throughout your career.
Like exercising, networking is good for you, but you may have to force yourself to make it a habit. To help you conquer your nerves and start making career-enhancing connections, here’s a step-by-step guide to networking as a student.
Start Networking Now
It doesn’t matter if you’re in college, a recent graduate or well into your career —the answer to when you should start networking is right now! What matters is that you make networking a habit.
You might be thinking, I haven’t started networking yet. But chances are you have more of a network than you think. You just haven’t activated it yet.
As your first step, start by reaching out to family and friends in your chosen industry—people who are already in your network. This is usually less intimidating than meeting complete strangers and can help you overcome any qualms you have about networking. Even if your family and friends can’t help you directly, they might be able to introduce you to valuable connections.
Next, contact alumni from your high school, college, or grad school. Many schools have alumni offices that can provide email addresses and telephone numbers, and you can also connect with alumni via tools like LinkedIn or Facebook. Some colleges also have mentoring programs where alumni opt in and raise their hand to help students from their school. They truly want to help, so take them up on the offer.
You now have a list of people to contact. What do you say to them?
Let’s use an alumni connection as an example. Reach out via email or LinkedIn and introduce yourself as a student from their school interested in entering their industry. Ask if they might be willing to speak with you in order to share their journey, give advice on how to navigate your career, and suggest any other individuals you might speak to.
If they agree (which they likely will), set up a phone call. Dial in on time and be respectful. Remember, even if they’re happy to talk to you, they’re doing you a favor. Don’t ask them to hire you, although you could ask what their company looks for in employees. After your conversation, if they think you might be a good fit, they will offer it up.
Stay in Touch
If your conversation with your new networking connection goes well, make an effort to stay in touch. Ask if you might keep them apprised of your career journey and reach back out to them for advice. Write them notes, thanking them for their time, advice, and guidance. Ask them for suggestions on great industry books to read.
The easiest way to stay in touch is to put a reminder on your calendar for two to three months out to update them; include notes about your conversation in the reminder to make it really easy to go back to what they shared with you, what you’ve learned, and where you are in your journey.
Keep track of who you spoke with, their background, their telephone number, their email, and what they had to offer. If you do this regularly, you’ll make a habit of networking that will last throughout your career.
Build Your Network Throughout Your Career
Following these steps—finding connections, introducing yourself, and staying in touch—is how you start building your networking muscle and creating a habit that will expand your connections. You should plan to keep the process going throughout your career, not simply when you’re looking for a job.
It goes without saying that you would not attempt a triathlon without extensive preparation. To do otherwise would result in failing miserably or even getting hurt. You need to train constantly to reach your goal.
The same goes for networking. You reap the greatest rewards by taking the steps to prepare for your “race,” which is the time you actually need a job. If you’ve done all the work to prepare your network, winning when it counts will be so much easier. If you wait until you need a job to do your preparation, you may not have enough networking muscle to get the job you want.
For more advice on building a successful career, you can find Ignite Your Career! on Amazon.