As a college student, you meet new people every day. In fact, you might be networking without even knowing it. The girl sitting next to you in class could be the connection to your first full-time gig after graduation. Or your professor may know someone who works for your future dream employer. But what does networking mean — and how can you make valuable connections off campus, such as during your summer job?
What is networking?
Networking is just a formal name for exchanging information and making contacts in the professional world. A summer job is the perfect way to start networking, whether it’s scooping ice cream or crafting budgets for a law firm. I’ve worked as a camp counselor, restaurant server, and marketing intern, and each of these experiences has provided a gateway to a future career.
How to network
Networking sounds a lot more intimidating than it really is. Take the fear out of it by setting simple goals, such as going to lunch with your supervisor or spending half a day in a different department of the office.
At one summer job, I asked an employee to get lunch with me so I could learn about how she got where she is in her career; and that summer, I eventually worked my way up to shadowing my supervisor for a day. Setting goals can help you stay on track during the few months you have.
Once you know whom you want to meet and what you want to learn, jump right in and get your first conversation out of the way. For me, it was easiest to start networking with fellow interns because we were all in the same boat. From casual conversation in the first week, I found out that my dream company at the time was located in a fellow intern’s hometown — and, better yet, one of her family friends worked there! Later down the line, any of these people could be a valuable resource to me in my desired career, or even vice versa.
“Networking is just a formal name for exchanging information and making contacts in the professional world.”Tweet
Remember non-traditional networking
At an office, join committees and interest groups, go to office events, and say yes to every project you can get your hands on. All of these things can lead you to meeting new people and networking in a very organic way. But remember networking doesn’t have to be in the office — it can also be at a baseball game or going out for afternoon coffee.
Be proactive about networking and at the end of your summer job, get everyone’s contact information and stay in touch. Don’t forget to use social media to your advantage by not only adding connections on LinkedIn, but also by using it as a tool to research coworkers or colleagues to see what they’re up to.
Lastly, don’t discount anyone along the way. Remember that everyone else had to take that first big step — even Oprah started her career working at a grocery store. Your fellow restaurant server might be tomorrow’s CEO. It’s important to get talking and find common ground, whether it’s about where you grew up or where you want to be in the future.
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