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Networking is the one skill a lot of college students don’t realize they need until the last minute. Meeting, talking to, and knowing people in an integrated networking system is a good way to learn more about the field you’re going into and maybe even land a job after graduation. After some research and discussion with peers, here’s some tips that I found most useful in beginning to network.

Begin Small

You don’t have to be talking to CEOs of companies to start your professional network. Let your family and friends know your career goals and ask them if they have any family friends or parent that has some sort of connection to the field. Next, your professors can be incredibly resourceful in establishing connections. Go to their office hours and tell them your career aspirations. They might be able to provide you with an email address or phone number of an alum or former colleague who’s working in the same field.

Talk to Everyone

Attend networking events, even if you think they’re stupid. Email people. Get involved. The more people you talk to, the more opportunities for professional contacts you can make. If you know that a friend of a friend has a connection to someone who might be able to help you, don’t be afraid to ask for an introduction. Often, this can result in someone else putting in a good word for you. Nobody likes forced small talk at industry events, but try to stay as engaged as possible and focus on your goal. Remember what you’re passionate about, and let it show through in your professional interactions.

Make a LinkedIn

I’ll admit I haven’t done this yet and it’s on my to do list. LinkedIn is a way to put yourself out there so that you have a public profile. It can also get you in touch with other people in fields you’re interested in, and gives potential employers a way to reach out to you. LinkedIn is a professional social network that’ll help you keep up with how companies are changing and how you can improve yourself to be a more qualified candidate.

Find a Way to Reach Out

While it would be nice for our future employers and colleagues to always reach out to us first, we do not live in a perfect job market where that happens. This means that if there’s a company you’re dreaming about working for, or a person you know you’ll need to get in with to get hired for a certain position, try to find any way possible to get in contact with the company or person. This goes back to talking to everyone–see if anyone, anywhere has some sort of connection. Otherwise, you may have to start at the bottom and work your way up.

Be Prepared

If you’re going to networking event, job expo, or some sort of gathering with professionals that might interest you, make sure you’re prepared with an updated copy of your resume, a business card, a personal statement, etc. Additionally, make sure you’ve rehearsed a professional introduction and pitch that clearly defines what your goals are and where you hope to see yourself. If you’re at an event where you won’t know many people, try to have a few icebreaker questions ready just incase you get caught off guard at a bad moment.

Be Genuine

You’re less likely to stand out if you give sugar coated answers that you think future employers might want to hear. Make sure to be yourself–it’s possible to stay professional while adding a touch of personal flair to your interactions and career intentions. Additionally, this means that if you manage to get a connection and contact them, stay in touch with them. Remember that whoever you’re talking to is a person too, and likely will not appreciated being used for your personal gains. Follow up on emails and keep a communication channel open. If someone helps your career, make sure to show your gratitude and thank them.

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the author

Allison Capley is an editor, college life writer, and a member of James Madison University’s class of 2016 in Harrisonburg, Virginia. At JMU she studies Writing, Rhetoric and Technical Communication, with a minor in Health Communication. Allison’s favorite hobby is horseback riding. In the future, she aspires to live life to the fullest and obtain a career in medical and pharmaceutical writing.

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