Networking as a college student: Putting your best foot forward

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Bryan Smith - November, 07 2022

5 min read

About the author

Content Manager at Prodigy Finance, helping international students gear up to study abroad

The importance of networking as a student

In many ways, enrolling for and studying towards a higher degree is only part of the education you’re intended to receive while at university. The other is intended to come in the form of networks and connections you make during your studies, which may last you a lifetime!

Going to networking events as a college student

Networking is a key component of success in many industries and professional sectors, and can more often than not help you access potential opportunities that you might otherwise not have access to.

Though ‘networking’ is a general term, there are generally three ways that you can build professional networks to empower your future success as a college student:

Industry immersion

Spending time, interning, or job shadowing (if your relevant visa allows it) in your chosen industry is possibly the best way to form future connections that can help you secure employment once your degree is over. Meeting potential employers, managers, or industry stakeholders can enable you to network effectively and pursue leads for future opportunities.

Partnerships

Many employers form close relationships with universities and study societies with the view of exchanging interests, demonstrating technology and advances, or highlighting prospective work opportunities. Exploring your school’s partnerships with major employers can help you connect with like minded, high-calibre peers and industry professionals.

Student organisations

Your peers and study partners are set to become a vital part of your industry after completing their degrees - and having friends and acquaintances you can reach out to can enable you to provide credible references or referrals to opportunities in the future.

How to start networking in college

Networking is for everyone - and though you might feel daunted if you’re set to attend your first networking event, it is important to remember that perfecting your networking skills and making great connections can make all the difference in setting your career up for success after graduating.

Research speakers and attendees

The internet is your friend - and researching topical speakers and potential attendees can both help you calm your nerves and enable you to find common ground with those attending a networking event.

For example - using LinkedIn is a great way to review a speaker or attendees’ education history, vocation and interests, and can help you refine a list of persons you’d like to meet and further enable you to find suitable conversation points that might be of interest to your goals.

Prepare your introduction

There’s little need to prepare a formal introduction at networking events - and often a candid approach works best! - but mentally refining your introduction to attendees can pay dividends.

For example, taking care to mention your current study plans, interests, or career aspirations can enable you to quickly connect with an attendee and find common interests.

Prepare business cards or a means to exchange details

If you’re able to, preparing a business card - or another means to exchange contact details such as a vCard - can help you secure the contact details of those you’d like to connect with.

Remember to share your personal or permanent details that aren’t linked to your school, and as such that may expire or become inaccessible following your graduation. Enabling future colleagues to retain your contact details can help you secure a mutual connection long into the future.

Questions to ask at networking events

Sometimes, it’s easy to remember a person more for the questions they ask, than the answers they give!

Networking is a perfect opportunity to ask questions and learn more about your fellow attendees, industry, or interests - and asking the right questions can either help you refine your understanding or learn more about your chosen field.

Questions to ask at networking event as a student:

  • How did you join this industry?
  • What skills are the most important for your job?
  • *How do you see this industry developing? *
  • If you could tell your college self one thing, what would it be?
  • Are there some things in your field that your education didn’t prepare you for?
  • What has changed most in this industry since you started?
  • What do you see as the major trends and issues in the industry today?
  • What does a typical workday/week in your position look like?
  • What projects are you working on now in this position?
  • What is your company’s culture like?
  • Are there any professional development opportunities available at your workplace? What are they?

Should I send a follow-up email after networking?

Most definitely!

There are few better ways to solidify your future relationship with a potential connection or employer by sending a follow-up email to express your thanks for their time.

Hi [Connection’s name],

*I really enjoyed learning more about what you do at [Event name] and would love the opportunity to connect over coffee or a virtual coffee meet to learn more about your experience with [Their industry] or [Their specialty]. *

This is particularly interesting to me, as I’m currently studying a [Degree name] and [University name] and I am very interested in learning more about how you use [Solution/Topic Discussed].

Would you be available to grab a coffee for 20 minutes on [Day] at [Time] or chat virtually via Zoom?

Looking forward to hearing from you,

[Your name]

How do I change my LinkedIn account when networking?

LinkedIn has become a powerful resource for professionals seeking to find new opportunities, expand their network, or learn more about their world of work - and naturally, enhancing your LinkedIn profile can enable you to put your best foot forward!

LinkedIn profiles receive the most traction in their relevant employment networks when they are completed with as much information as possible. To that end, make sure that your profile:

  • Has a recent and clear profile picture
  • Has your professional name and title
  • Has a memorable tagline, relevant to your interests and work
  • Contains any work experience or previous education history you’d like to share
  • Contains your interests and causes you are passionate about

Further, if your chosen networking event has been featured as a LinkedIn event, be sure to mark your attendance so that new connections are able to easily find your profile after the event concludes.

If you are open to employment - whether part time or full time - adding an optional “Open to work” banner to your profile picture can enable recruiters or new connections to recognise that you’re open to new opportunities.

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