Here at 4Degrees, we’re in the business of fostering connections between people. We’ve talked with thousands of folks from all kinds of industries and at every stage in their career journey. One group has stood out in particular based on its unique set of challenges: high school and college students looking to connect with professionals.
Ambitious students realize that making professional connections is one of the most important steps on the road to success. But how? Where do you find people to connect with? What do you talk about? How do you not waste their time?
As a student looking to connect with professionals, the biggest mistake you can make is to let the stress and complexity of the task overwhelm you. Many well-intentioned students are quickly put off when faced with the potential awkwardness and newness of professional networking; the key is to persevere through the discomfort as you learn the ropes and develop your networking skills.
The key to keeping up the effort of forming connections is realizing two key truths: 1) professional networking is a distinct skill and 2) no one you’re interacting with expects you to be particularly good at it. With those truths in mind, just keep practicing and working on forming more relationships.
Of course, before your form relationships you have to actually find people to talk with. There’s no silver bullet here: you just have to tap into whatever you can. Try out a bit of everything and then spend your time where you enjoy it and see the most benefit.
While finding professionals to connect with can be tough for students, we’ve found that students really tend to struggle with keeping those connections active over time. Their biggest concern is that busy professionals will think that the students are wasting their time; as a result, many students simply fail to reach out, letting the relationship fade over time. To combat this phenomenon, follow the golden rule: just try.
As with finding professionals to connect, with what to connect about doesn’t have a single simple answer. You should just spend time trying out a little bit of everything and slowly gravitating toward whatever works best for you.
The networking skills and relationships you develop while in school will serve you well as you set out on your professional journey. By starting early, you’ll find that you have a step up on other job candidates and peers looking for promotions. And don’t forget, the key to that early start is to get out there and try!