Most college students are clueless about professional networking. In my last blog post “Starting College? How to Avoid the ‘I’ll Be Happy Only When…’ Syndrome”, I shared some tips related to Learning and Lifestyle, as I looked back on when I started college 32 years ago. Many readers commented that the ideas were helpful, whether you’re in college or not. In this blog post, here is some advice regarding people and networking.
1). Get to know your classmates well. It’s smart to study hard in order to ace your classes. But don’t forget to network among your classmates. By “network”, I don’t mean being phony or Machiavellian about meeting people. I do mean that you should make a real effort to meet people, and get to know them a little bit. I’ve found that even a one-hour lunch with someone at business school, 20 years ago, makes me feel comfortable reaching out to them for help today. Research indicates that “loose connections” with lots of people is generally better for your career than having just a few deep bonds with close friends.
2). Meet people different from you. It’s easy to make friends with people who are exactly like you. But you’ll learn a lot more about our increasingly diverse world — and yourself — if you befriend people who are different. When I was a sophomore, I spoke with a senior who had just returned from studying in Europe. Thanks to that one conversation, one year later I was studying in Vienna. Then I made friends with a gay classmate when a lot of GLBT people were still in the closet. And I became pals with a Jewish classmate from New York, who was very different from my Catholic Midwest background. More than three decades later, they continue to be some of the best friends I’ve ever had.
3). Choose your friends wisely. College can be extremely liberating, because in many ways you can “reinvent” yourself. Used to be a nerd, but now you want to be a jock? Used to be a jock, but now you want to be a nerd? Suddenly you can make it happen! But be careful that you don’t end up with people who make you dumber / lazier / meaner / unhealthier / unhappier. Those hip, cool, radical, new Best Friends Forever might expand your perspective. Or they might ruin your life. Knowing the difference is part of becoming a successful adult.
4). Develop your leadership skills. To achieve your goals in life, learn to lead. It doesn’t matter whether you end up working as an entrepreneur, a research scientist, or a grade school phys ed teacher – the better you are at organizing, persuading and inspiring others, the more you’ll accomplish. I didn’t join a fraternity at college, but over the years, I’ve come to appreciate that the Greek system gives young men and women outstanding opportunities to organize trips, charity events, and yes – parties! – all of which allow you to develop key leadership skills and network at an early age.
Sororities and fraternities are not your thing? Most campuses have a huge variety of organizations, ranging from yoga clubs to political activism to the college radio station. What’s incredibility important to you? What’s incredibly fun for you? Become an active member of that group. And if that club doesn’t exist yet, go ahead and found the organization yourself. That’s the best way to learn to lead. (And a pretty good way to start a company, too!)
5). Start using LinkedIn. I’ve been a huge fan of LinkedIn since 2004. It’s a phenomenal way to let everyone in the world see your resume. And it’s the easiest way I can think of to methodically expand your professional network. You might think of yourself as a lowly college freshman, too busy studying to spend the minimal effort building out your LinkedIn profile. But as each semester passes, you’re getting closer to the time when you’ll be looking for a real job – and LinkedIn can play a vital role in a successful job search. LinkedIn can even help you look for a summer internship before your sophomore year starts. And in my years as a hiring manager in Silicon Valley, I definitely favored people who had impressive LinkedIn profiles over those who didn’t.
In my next blog post, I’ll go into detail regarding internships, talk about the importance of having a mentor, and discuss ways to network yourself into your first job out of college.
What suggestions do you have about professional networking while still in school? And if you liked this post, thanks for sharing it!
Photo Credit: DAVID MARCU / Unsplash