5 Strategies Any Student Can Use to Build a Network Right Now

When you were much younger, your guardians taught you not to talk to strangers; however, talking to strangers during and beyond your college years has become vital to the growth of your career. Stepping out of your comfort zone to network with a professional can be very rewarding, but it can also be difficult to successfully reach out to other students and professionals, especially when you may not know how to network.

Thankfully, there are some unique networking opportunities that don’t require any prerequisites, and you can use these strategies right now!

1. Use Social Media To Your Advantage

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Beyond checking in with your friends and tweeting about your last snack, social media is a tremendous tool to get hired. While it might be unconventional for you to create a Snapchat story of your resume (unless of course you’re applying to a job at Snapchat), you can utilize your social networks to contact companies and industry professionals from around the world.

If you have yet to apply for a position with a company, you can get yourself noticed by sending the company of your dreams a private message on either Facebook or Twitter. Simply state why you are infatuated by their company and include some of your professional qualifications. Then conclude your miniature cover letter by asking if they have any available positions in your preferred industry.

Likewise, social media can also be immensely beneficial after your apply to a job. After you submit your application, tweet at the company to let them know just how excited you are to have submitted your application. Better yet, say exactly why you want this position and why you are passionate about the company. This level of engagement is not used by most applicants and will get you noticed for all of the right reasons. However, try to avoid being blunt, like saying, “Hey @MarvelStudios, you should hire me now because I need a job. Seriously. NOW.”

2. Don’t Just Eat the Free Food at Campus Events

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Campus events, even if they are not specifically networking events, are a great way to meet other students and professionals who are working on great projects at a variety of companies. So when you aren’t stuffing your face with free grub, introduce yourself to someone and ask them about their college projects and research. Who knows, maybe they landed your dream internship and could put in a good word for you.

3. Become Someone’s Shadow

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Typically job shadowing (where you get to see what someone’s day-to-day work routine to see what his or her job is like) is an unpaid position, but it is an exceptional opportunity nonetheless. Job shadows are often less competitive than internships, as they’re usually offered for a shorter period of time and don’t require you to do work.

Take some time to research a local company and its employees, then send an email asking if any department is open to a job shadow. Often, companies welcome like-minded job shadowers; plus,the experience will allow you to gain professional insight and a professional connection or two.

4. Attend Conferences

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Following my sophomore year of college, I took the plunge and attended my first professional conference. At the time I was still majoring in Biological/Pre-Medical Illustration, so it seemed only natural that I would attend the annual meeting for the Association of Medical Illustrators. Not only was this my first conference, it was my first international conference.

While I was attending the conference with four other students from the program and countless other alumni, it was still intimidating to attend a symposium with a few hundred professionals and graduate students. What was more frightening was listening to discussion panels from professionals everyone in your major has been compared to for the last nine years. Despite my meeting jitters, I was able to have quality discussions with medicals illustrators, who were mere legends prior to our meeting.

After the third medical illustrator I spoke to at the conference, I realized that everyone was there for one reason: to share and learn from each other. It may have taken me most of the first day of the conference to come to this epiphany; however, I was able to use this new consciousness beyond my first conference.

While I did connect with those conference contacts after the event, I did not follow up with much of my newfound network. Your follow up email, letter, Tweet, or whatever does not need to be long however, it is important that you follow up with your contacts in a timely fashion.

To ensure that your follow up email is fruitful, make sure that you refresh your contact’s memory on who you are and how you met. Then include some points of your conversation that you found interesting, during the networking event. Be sure to highlight the most important portion of the email, which is why you are contacting this person. What do you want to learn from this person? Maybe you are curious as to how they got settled into their career, or maybe you simply want to work with them on a project. Regardless of how you initiate the conversation, it is important that you reach out to your newly found professional network in a timely manner.

Within a day or two, be sure to connect with new contacts and thank each of them for meeting with you, include some points that you found interesting during your conversation(s), and conclude your note by stating that you hope to see them in the future. And if you can plan a time to meet, even better!

5. Invest in Some Awesome Business Cards

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While I did bring my own business cards to the Association of Medical Illustrators’ (AMI) annual conference, my cards were quite underwhelming. I was fortunate enough to take a course, which required me to create my own business cards. Less than a month until the first conference, I was stressed and second-guessing my design. In the midst of my panic, I redid my design at the last second, and the difference in quality between the two sides of my design was quite noticeable.

If I had more time to completely redesign my business card, I may have had more professional connections from my first AMI conference. Regardless, it is important to understand the anatomy of a captivating business card. The graphics in a business card should reflect your desired occupation. Because I was going to a conference filled with scientific illustrators and medical illustrators, I chose to illustrate a Strategus aloeus, an ox beetle. Therefore, it would have seemed quite strange if I had handed out plain white business cards with only my name and contact information printed on it. While you should not copy another professional’s design, you should research business cards within your industry.

It is also important to note that awesomeness does not necessarily translate to uniqueness. For this reason, it is important to stick to the standard 3.5” by 2” dimensions of a business card. Most professionals carry a business card holder on their person, which can make it difficult for them to collect your business card when it is a 3.5” by 3.5” square, a circle, or any other atypical dimension or shape.

Beyond the size of your business card, you have creative freedom to add a plethora of embellishments to your card design. Like your business card design, you have the creative liberty to tailor these tips to fit your networking needs.

Networking doesn’t have to wait until you graduate; by getting ahead of the game now, you’ll start your post-grad career with some great contacts in your arsenal.

Thank you for reading this article, as my original article was published on Uloop News. Please feel free to share any other networking tips in the comments below.