The skill of “networking,” means meeting people who share your interests and who could provide you with guidance or assistance. It is also about you helping others when the opportunity arises. Networking is an important part of academic life, but many students feel they lack the skills to network confidently and effectively. Here are a few strategies that will help you make valuable connections:
1] The most important strategy is to approach networking with the appropriate mindset. Don’t go to an event thinking, “I must meet someone who can advance my career or my studies.” This puts a lot of pressure on you, and may make you come across as a little aggressive. Instead, your mindset should be more like, “This is great! I’ll get to meet lots of people who share my interests.”
2] Don’t try to impress. Just be yourself. Be open and curious about the people with whom you speaking. The best connections are made between people who share a passion, so share your ideas, goals and interests.
3] When you first meet someone, make eye contact as you give them a firm handshake. First impressions have a strong impact on how people perceive you.
4] Make sure to introduce yourself in a way that stimulates conversation. “Hello, I’m Fred” is not nearly as likely to lead to a good conversation as “Hello, I’m Fred Coleman. I’m the student assistant for the Ideas Institute.”
5] Always ask for a business card, and also write a quick note on those you’ve connected with, so you don’t forget who is who and what you discussed.
6] Don’t feel that you need to meet everyone in the room at an event and find multiple opportunities or pieces of information. Making a good connection with one person who could give you some guidance in the future is a great outcome.
7] Remember that sometimes you will feel that you didn’t make any meaningful connections at an event. This happens often, so don’t be too disappointed. And, just being at an event might give you a good opening for a conversation in the future: “Weren’t you at the Saving the Seas workshop in January? I really enjoyed the guest speaker.”
8] Understand that everyone at the event may be networking to make valuable connections, and as a student you may not be at the top of their list of people they want to chat with. Don’t be disheartened by this. It doesn’t indicate any problem with you. Some people are simply less generous with their time than others, or are focused on important connections they themselves wish to make.
9] Keep in mind that people you speak with may be learning from you, too. Although some of them may be more advanced in their careers, you may have fresh ideas they haven’t yet encountered.
10] If you had a great conversation with someone, consider sending them an email to express how much you enjoyed meeting and speaking with them.
11] And have fun! You’ll me much more approachable and engaging if you are enjoying yourself.