You may think landing a job after college is your final goal—at least for a while—but I’m here to tell you, you have more work to do.
Yep, I’m talking about networking.
Networking is a crucial tool in any professional’s toolbox, and even though it’s (unfairly) earned a bad reputation, it’s definitely something you’ll need to do if you want to succeed in your career. But here’s the good news: You’ve been practicing your networking skills all through college. In fact, you already know how to do it, you just might not realize it—yet.
As soon as you graduate (or even before), it’s time to start building your network. And, if you’re getting cold feet, check out these three ways your college experience has already prepared you for professional relationship-building—and how you can put those skills into action, pronto.
1. Study Groups Redux
Remember all those study groups? Whether it was just a few fellow students or your entire stats class, you all had a common goal and worked together to achieve it. Sure, the first few minutes may have been a tad awkward, but as soon as you got down to business, I’ll bet you not only learned a ton, but made some new friends, too.
Networking is just like that, except now, instead of a project for class, you’re working toward advancing your careers. And, just like study groups, networking events tend to be focused around a particular industry, discipline, or skill set. Do some sleuthing online to find meetups, conferences, or happy hours that are focused on areas where you’d like more exposure. Then, get ready to study in a whole new way.
2. Ultimate Frisbee Rematch
Maybe it was Frisbee in the quad, running around campus, or biking to and from class with your roommates; whatever the activity was, it brought you together with other people. And guess what? Just like studying, this, too, becomes another networking opportunity you can effortlessly deploy once you’re out of college.
The cool thing about physical activities (or any other extracurricular) is that they bring together people who share at least one thing in common. You might be thinking for professional reasons, that might not be relevant, but hear me out. The great thing about gathering around a common interest that has nothing to do with your professional life is that you immediately form relationships with people you might not have interacted with otherwise. And, it won’t take long before you realize, that even though your biking buddies work in completely different industries, they have connections—and can open doors and provide valuable mentorship for you along the way.
Stay active, and seek out new groups to join to break a sweat. The people you’ll meet will strengthen your professional network (not to mention keep you in shape).
3. Professional Researcher
By the time you graduate, you no doubt have great research skills. And guess what? Those skills are good for far more than researching a thesis.
Any great networker will tell you, a big part of successful relationship building is knowing your network. When you meet someone—or even before an event—do some (non-creepy) stalking. Figure out where people are coming from, both professionally and personally, and start making notes. (Better yet, put those spreadsheet skills to work and create your own database.) Keep track of any detail that will help you remember something specific about each person, a few notes on what you chatted about, and their contact information. Then, when it’s time for you to reach out to them to follow up, you’ll have some personal, relevant information to help them remember you.
Keep refreshing your list occasionally, looking for anything new and interesting that will give you a reason to reach out to your network. Your contacts will appreciate the fact you remembered something about them—and the effort you made to find something relevant to discuss.
See? Networking isn’t so hard. You already know how to do it—because you’ve been doing it for years. Now that you’re ready to enter the professional world, take your relationship building skills up a notch, and start networking now.
Photo of graduation courtesy of Shutterstock.