Although the college experience is mostly about academics, those formative years of higher education are also a prime time to jump-start your professional development.
If you make smart moves while you're still an undergraduate, you'll have an easier experience finding a job after graduation.
Strengthen your networking game during college with these strategies.
Utilize Your School's Career Services
Your first stop should be your college's career services office. Don't end your college career without taking advantage of the assistance you can get through your school. From resume help to alumni networking, your campus career services office is a great way to jump-start your job search, from the first year to the last.
Your career office is there to help, and best of all, the services available through it are all already paid for by your tuition.
Actively Engage With Your Faculty
When it comes to classes relevant to your major, don't just sit in the back with your eyes half-closed and only one ear open. Make yourself known to the professor: sit up front, ask questions, and follow up by discussing issues with professors outside of class. Not only will this likely help your grade, but it will also lead to establishing a positive relationship.
Professors often have tons of connections, from colleagues in the field to former students, making them a valuable resource during your job or internship search. Meet with your professors during their office hours and ask them for introductions to contacts in fields of interest. Their introduction will often be perceived as an endorsement by their trusted contacts and lead to productive networking meetings.
Plus, you'll be grateful for the relationship if you have to ask a professor for a reference letter.
Reach out to Other Faculty and Staff
Don't limit yourself to professors from your existing classes. If there's somebody in your department who you think might be able to offer career advice or help you land an internship or a job, contact them. You have nothing to lose by sending them a friendly email and asking to arrange a time to meet casually and chat about your career path.
Investigate the academic research interests of your faculty and offer to help if you find common interests. Collaborative research experiences will put a positive stamp on your resume and can lead to networking referrals.
Use LinkedIn for Professional Networking
LinkedIn is a great way to discover and stay in touch with professional contacts, so ensure you make an active effort to keep your profile updated. Join groups on LinkedIn for your college and reach out to alumni in fields of interest for advice, introductions, and assistance with jobs and internships at their organization. Identify groups in career areas of interest and investigate options for students to join and participate in professional sharing.
Talk to Recent Graduates
Although professors and professionals are valuable resources for advice, people who are just a few years out of school have a fresh perspective on strategies for finding a job and may have relationships with recruiters at their organization. Whenever possible, meet with them in the workplace, since they will gain a better appreciation for what you have to offer and may introduce you to some decision-makers on-site.
Take Advantage of Networking Events
If your college offers alumni networking events, make an effort to attend—and be serious about it. Dress the part, and carry a few resumes with you too, because you never know who you might encounter. Keep your eye out for profession-specific events or job fairs in your area, too. Here's how to make the most out of college alumni networking events, and how to start a conversation with the people you meet. Attend as many other professional networking events as you have time for.
Use Your Semester Break
Gather contacts from your career office during the fall. Reach out to alumni to set up consultations over the break, in locations where you might like to land an internship or job. If you encounter an interesting prospect, explore the possibility of arranging a short-term job shadow for a few days or weeks over the break. You can meet lots of professionals in that environment and make a positive impression while you explore a career field.
Do an Internship (Or Two)
An internship gets your foot in the door—and even if it doesn't end in a job at that specific company, the people you meet can connect you with other opportunities, as well as serve as a reference source in the future.
So, even if you are unpaid, don't just treat your internship as a resume filler. Take it seriously, do your best, and you'll thank yourself after graduation.
Ask for an Informational Interview
Want to connect with someone at your internship, a professor, or even someone in your field that you admire? Request an informational interview to find out about what they do and how they got there. It can also take place via email or on the phone. Either way, establishing contacts—and maintaining them—creates valuable connections when it comes time to launch your career.
Connect With Your Company of Choice on Social Media
Do you dream of working for a specific company? Make a point to follow them on social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Pinterest.
Not only does this imply your interest in a future opportunity, but it's an excellent way to keep track of job openings. For example, some employers have a specific Twitter account for job opportunities, and many companies—small and large—post about when they're hiring on their social media pages.