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Professional Networking Tips for College Students

Tom Felgar
Author:

Tom Felgar, Student & Alumni

net·work
verb

  • A nauseating act whereby an individual attempts to advance personal pursuits, often concluding in a loss of shame.
  • The single-most effective way to advance in a career and engage in mutually beneficial relationships.

The first definition you read is exactly how I viewed networking for much of my collegiate and professional career.  And, to my dismay, I couldn’t find the key to the career trajectory that I was looking for.  I had a nice degree from a reputable university, two internships with Major League Baseball affiliated organizations, and what I believed to be a bevy of skills that employers were looking for.  Yet, with each painstaking online application I filled out, I seldom heard back.  As Larry David might say, I was very flummoxed.

Networking Tips to Get the Communications Career You Want

In 2014, I decided to try something new.  I used a personal connection I had to put me in touch with someone at an organization looking for a short-term, part-time communications associate.  I interviewed and got the job, which I parlayed into another marketing gig through networking, and again into another.  In fact, there has been a cyclical cause and effect of career progression, thanks largely in part to networking.  With each position I’ve acquired through a connection, I’ve honed skills and bolstered my resume to a point where I am a qualified candidate when the next opportunity arises.

But, in order to reap the benefits, I had to shift my paradigm on networking.  Previously, I thought networking was predicated on events where people in uncomfortable clothes went into even more uncomfortable gatherings, generally accompanied by a few beverages and assorted cheeses, having forced conversations while making unwanted professional advances business cards.  
Maybe that scenario does actually exist – but it’s not representative of what I believe the purest form of networking is.

My networking success has been predicated on building a stable of advocates.  It’s not quick or easy, but cultivating connections based on personal relationships and merit beats the online job portal racket any day of the week. But, if you're like me, you don't want platitudes, you want a real-life example of how embracing networking can impact a career.

Networking for Career Advancement

But, if you’re like me, you don’t want platitudes, you want a real-life example of just how embracing networking can impact a career.

Two years ago, when I first began to accept networking as an avenue for career advancement, I was making virtually subsistence, entry-level wages.  I wasn’t in the field I wanted to be in, nor the industry.  In less than 18 months, I’ve nearly doubled my salary, moved into the exact field I want to be in, and truly enjoy the industry that I work in.  Additionally, further opportunities for advancement are presenting themselves far more often than I would have ever imagined in December of 2014.  All of this arose from merely asking one of my advocates to make an initial contact on my behalf.

Did I mention that it isn’t easy?  I could go on for days about what I believe genuine, sincere networking looks like, but in short, it’s a lot deeper than eating cheese skewers and sipping wine.  It’s about proving your worth and character enough for someone to stick their neck out for you.  Earning that type of trust and respect takes more than a quid pro quo mentality.  It means being willing to go the extra mile time after time in hopes that your advocate will someday be willing to go to bat for you.  At best, they will reciprocate without hesitation and, at worst, you’ve made a good showing of yourself.

I still can’t do speed dating-esque type of networking functions – I simply don’t have that type of mindset.  But, I relish the opportunity to meet new people and form meaningful relationships based on substance.  Knowing that each connection I cultivate may be able to help me down the road has not only helped me not only grow professionally, but as a person as well.

Learn More About Networking

Networking is a key aspect to finding the job you've always wanted. Learn more networking tips with the Master of Science in Communication program online. It can be completed in just 20 months and covers social media engagement, professional writing, and communication ethics.

*The views and opinions expressed are of the author and do not represent the Brian Lamb School of Communication.