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?
The golden rule: Try
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.
Where to find professionals
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.
- Networking events — In college, your school will almost certainly have networking events for alumni, internships, jobs, and all kinds of interest groups. Try some out! Big public events aren’t for everyone, but they’re a great way to meet a lot of new people.
- Family connections — If you’re fortunate enough to have family members who work in or around industries that interest you, as them to make some introductions. Make it clear you’re just looking to learn and always be gracious for those offering their time to speak with you.
- Alumni network — If your school has an alumni services group, see if you can tap into that network to meet people in industries you find interesting. Again, make it clear you’re looking to learn and be gracious.
- Ask for more connections — Wherever you start, one of the best tactics for expanding your network is asking everyone you meet for more connections. If you can convince everyone to make at least one connection, then there’s no limit to how large you can grow your network.
How to keep them engaged
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.
- Term updates — Take advantage of school terms ending/beginning to send out updates. Let people know how your classes went, what you’ll be taking the next term, and what you’re excited about. See if you can find connections between your course work and your various connections’ experience.
- Interest-based campaigns — Your networking will feel more organic if it’s related to something you’re actually working on. Figure out a couple of side projects you can work on based on your interests. Reach out to people who can provide input on those projects based on their skills and experience.
- Share content — Keep an eye out for articles that you think your network will be interested in. You don’t want to do this too often, but the occasional relevant and timely piece with your thoughts attached can help you stay top of mind and come off as thoughtful.
- Ask for advice — Whenever you find yourself with a meaningful decision, think about who in your network can help you work through it. What classes to take, which internships to apply for, how to spend your extracurricular time; these are all subjects that pretty much any established professional should have an interesting perspective on.
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!