To some extent, we all know that networking is important. As a student, you are likely just getting used to the idea of creating a professional network. So why do you think networking matters?
Most young people believe that the biggest reason to network is to develop a list of contacts at organizations where they would potentially like to work post-graduation. While this does matter, it shouldn’t be your primary goal.To explain why, let’s define networking and demystify three common misconceptions about it.
What is Networking?
Networking is a supportive system of sharing information and services among individuals and groups having a common interest.
In the definition above, the “common interest” could be a passion for a particular industry or channel of business; a shared experience, such as attending the same college or being from the same hometown; or, even just a general interest, like sharing new ideas.
Networking is a very broad concept, but we tend to limit ourselves to thinking of it primarily as a means of creating connections for our own benefit and personal advancement. Remember that networking is a two-way street. You have to give just as much- if not more- than you get.
Here are three of the most common networking mistakes:
1.) You start networking senior year.
It happens far too often: many students wait too long to start building their networks. If you wait until your senior year, you’ll have waited too long. The worst time to network is when you are urgently looking for something- like, say, a job opportunity.
This isn’t to say you should stop networking during your senior year. It just means that by the time your senior year rolls around, you should already have established relationships with a number of people who are working in industries that interest you, or have different perspectives that may help you think “outside the box” as you build and navigate a career path for yourself.
Start early. When you talk with professors, ask them if they know of any alums who were star students, or went on to work in a field you are really interested in. Learn more about what your parents’ friends do for a living. Attend conferences and/or workships on topics that interest you (such as writing, leadership, technology, etc.). Create your own business cards (you can make free ones here!) so that you have them on hand when you meet interesting people.
2.) You network up.
We often think of networking as connecting with people who have already been (or currently are) where we one day hope to be. In the process, it’s easy to forget that sometimes the best people to network with are the ones who live across the hall from you in your dorm, or sit in front of you in class.
Remember the importance of networking across- developing strong relationships with your peers now. After all, it is your peers who are the next generation of leaders. By building those relationships now, you’ll get to see them- and even help them- find success from very early on.
3.) You only network with people like you.
Say you want to be a politician. You may try to network with other people who are already politicians; professors who teach politics; students who are political science majors. That’s great, but don’t underestimate the power of casting a much wider net as you search for people to include in your network.
For instance, as a politician, you’ll need to know about more than just the art of politics. You have to understand a little bit of everything- healthcare, taxes, education, sustainability, international relations, the media industry, etc. By building a broad network, you will be in contact with people who specialize in these various fields. Down the road, they will become great sources of knowledge and givers of advice.
Think of your network as your own personal board of directors. These people will be invaluable to you as you seek information, insights, and fresh perspectives throughout your career. Remember, you are only as strong as the network you create for yourself.
Key things to keep in mind no matter who you are networking with:
1.) Follow-up within 48 hours. For more tips on the follow-up, read Kelly Cuene’s article on the importance of following-up.
2.) Send a hand-written thank you note or a small gift of thanks when appropriate. This is particularly important when you are meeting with people who have many obligations and limited time. Think of it as an additional way to distinguish yourself from the hundreds of other people in someone else’s network.
3.) Give more than you take. Whenever you find an interesting article or book, share it with someone in your network who may find it interesting or relevant. In addition, make the effort to connect people you know to one another in order to help others expand their own networks. If you do these things because you genuinely care about the success of other people, you’ll find that your network will be significantly stronger and more people will be inclined to return the favor and help you down the road.
Melissa is the Editor-in-Chief of studentbranding.com. She is also an Assistant Brand Manager at Time Inc. Home Entertainment, where she manages brand extension projects for numerous publications including: Sports Illustrated Swimsuit, People, and Entertainment Weekly. Melissa majored in Psychology at Hamilton College and currently resides in New York City. To find out more, read her blog, follow her on Twitter and connect on LinkedIn.