Six Strategies for College Students Build a Powerful Professional Network Now
College can be as overwhelming as it is exciting. You may already have a dream career in mind, but it’s easy to get caught up living your best college life (or trying not to sleep through 8am SLS) and miss out on valuable networking opportunities.
When it comes to building an impressive resume, what you know matters, but who you know can open even more doors.
That’s where networking comes in.
The relationships you build now become connections you can leverage later to help you find a job or get you in the door to pitch your start-up or product to sell. But it’s about more than just getting ahead professionally, your building lasting bonds and relationships.
You can build your professional network by building personal relationships, then the people in your network will also be in your corner. They will be your references, your mentors, your colleagues. They will be the ones rooting for your success, recommending you for jobs, and connecting you with other networking opportunities to further your career.
No one achieves success on his or her own.
It’s true that there is hard work and perseverance; there is also coincidence and luck, privilege, and exploitation; but there is no such thing as “self-made.” Every success story starts with a strong network.
Networking is all about human connection and building intentional relationships that benefit everyone. Your network can be your most powerful resource. And the sooner you start building one, the better.
Here are 6 Ways You Can Get Started:
1. Explore Your Field of Interest
Once you have a career or an industry in mind, start researching ways to gain knowledge and experience. The more you learn about the field, the better equipped you will be to pursue it. Professional networking sites like LinkedIn are excellent tools for connecting with employers and industry professionals. You can follow companies that you are interested in working with to stay in the loop on industry trends and job openings. You can also search for people via job titles and connect with professionals working in your dream field. Most people are happy and willing to share their career story and give tips for pursuing a similar path. Here’s some do’s and don’ts for LinkedIn etiquette:
Do express your interest in pursuing a career in the industry.
Don’t ask for a job or a recommendation (unless they offer first).
Do ask questions about their role and experience in the field.
Don’t ask them to review your resume or portfolio (unless they offer first).
2. Find a Mentor
A mentor can champion your professional goals, offer career guidance and industry insight, provide letters of recommendation, and even get you connected in the industry. Talk to your college professors about mentorship opportunities. Seasoned industry professionals and retirees are often recruited to teach by colleges and universities. Their knowledge and connections in the field are invaluable. Even if you are not enrolled in their class, you can still request a meeting with them. If they are not available for mentoring, chances are they can recommend someone. Who knows? Perhaps someday you will be the one mentoring an aspiring young professional.
3. Get Involved
Getting a job may be your ultimate goal but applying for jobs right out of the gate isn’t always the best strategy. Consider building your portfolio and resume before you start firing out applications. Instead, take advantage of your time as a student and focus your efforts on applying to professional networks and organizations in your field of interest to gain more knowledge and experience. Search for your career industry with the word “society,” “association,” or “network,” and chances are that a networking organization exists. You can engage with professionals and recruiters in your field, attend workshops and conferences, and even participate in projects and competitions. Many of these organizations also offer waived or discounted membership fees for enrolled students.
4. Develop Your Online Presence
Professional social networking looks a little different than just maintaining your personal feeds. If you have an Instagram, Facebook, or other personal account, it’s wise to create a separate professional account. Domain hosting platforms, like Squarespace, Wix, or Wordpress, make it easy to build a personal website to display your achievements and credentials. Depending on the career field you choose, employers may ask you to include links to an online work portfolio or examples of social media marketing. Either way, building a personal brand for yourself is an effective way to establish yourself as an authority in your field and provides a creative way to enhance your resume.
5. Apply to Professional Internships
Get your foot in the door at your dream company with a professional internship or apprenticeship. Many internships are offered by world-class companies with highly competitive positions that receive thousands of applications from all over the world. An internship could be your chance to stand out as a top candidate among piles of resumes. Instead of being another random name in their HR inbox, you could already be an active member of their team, building relationships, gaining internal insight, and establishing your reputation and potential within the company. Then, when it comes time for them to fill a new position, your name is first in line. Some of the more coveted internships are only available to college students and recent grads. If you wait too long to apply, you may not be eligible. Don’t miss out! Professional internships are resume candy and can greatly advance your career.
6. Join an On-Campus Community
Community is a society with a human face—the place where we know we’re not alone.
- Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
From sororities and fraternities to clubs and fellowships, there are plenty of ways to find camaraderie on campus. Joining a college community is a great tool for growing your network, but it’s also important for personal growth. Navigating your college and career journey can be challenging, but you don’t have to walk it alone. There’s solidarity in shared experience and finding the right college community can make all the difference.
Central Florida Hillel is dedicated to helping students connect with their Jewish identity and reach their greatest potential. Located in the University of Central Florida, UCF Hillel fosters an inclusive environment where students can “do Jewish” their way. Through on-campus amenities like cooking classes, community gardening, fantasy sports, and more, students can enjoy an enriching social life while embracing their Jewish heritage and personal identity. Central Florida Hillel also provides wellness resources, Jewish education classes, and Israel programs including free trips and summer internships in Israel.
If you go to the University of Central Florida, Full Sail University, Seminole State University, or Valencia College, please reach out to Central Florida Hillel to find out how to get involved, network, meet new friends, and do Jewish your way.
It may seem like you have plenty of time to prepare for the future later, but you have to take the time now. The opportunities are available now and there’s no guarantee they’ll be there in the future.
Don’t wait! Get the most out of your college experience and start building your network today.
Your future self will thank you.