Networking 101: How to Network as a Student

Kern Carter

December 24, 2021

8 minutes

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Depending on your personality, networking can either sound exciting or like the last thing you want to do. Regardless of where you fall on the scale, networking is necessary. Expanding and maintaining your network provides additional support in your job search journey as you progress through your career. Whether you acknowledge it or not, it will be a key factor in determining your success by providing insight and access you can’t get on your own. 

What is networking and how does it work? 

When you network professionally, you deliberately seek out connections who can support you through your job search and as you build your career. These connections are people you will turn to for advice and insights into their field. In ideal scenarios, a networking connection can be an advocate who vouches for you when an opportunity arises. 

It’s important to remember networking should be a partnership. You’re not just connecting with someone to take advantage of the opportunities or guidance they may provide. It’s vital you bring something to the table to make the partnership mutually beneficial. Now, that doesn’t mean you need to provide the same access and support that they provide you, but it does mean you should find ways to make your skills and talents an asset to them as well. 

When should you start networking? 

If you’re reading this article and haven’t started networking, then you’re already behind. Networking is something you do throughout the entirety of your career, starting right now while you’re still completing your studies. 

As we mentioned before, networking gives you a huge advantage. And with so many industries becoming ultra-competitive, you need to create whatever advantage you can. Beginning your networking journey while you’re still in college or university connects you with partners who can guide you through different parts of your career. You’ll likely make fewer mistakes and be led to places and opportunities you couldn’t get on your own. 

Once you start building your network, keep going. Nurture the people you connect with now and continue to look for and expand your network as you advance your career. Networking isn’t something that stops when you reach a certain position; it’s ongoing work that will elevate you in ways you can’t predict. Think about the times you may be in between jobs, or times you may want to change industries, or even times you simply want to move up from where you are. Your network will always be valuable in any circumstance related to your career. 

Benefits of networking

In any industry, who you know is a factor in how far you go. That’s just the truth. With that in mind, ensuring you make connections starting right now will only help you as you advance through your career. 

As you strategize ways to build your network, consider these benefits: 

1. Exposure to knowledge and ideas 

As you connect with new people, you expose yourself to new ideas. Your network will have experiences you haven’t, and they can share that information and knowledge with you to impact the way you think and approach different situations. 

2. Exposure to new opportunities

Not only will you be exposed to new ways of thinking, but you’ll also be exposed to new and exciting opportunities. This is the major benefit of expanding your network. They expose you to spaces you couldn’t get to on your own, or that you didn’t even know you needed to be. The best part is that your network will make sure that the door is already open when you get there. 

3. Career growth and professional development

You’re at the very beginning of your career. As you continue to grow and find your way, you’ll be led by a network who has already done what you’re hoping to do and can remove some of the obstacles along your journey. The advice you’ll receive from your network will be invaluable to your professional development. 

4. Mentorship 

Not everyone in your network will be a mentor and they don’t have to be. But within your network, you need to be aware of the individuals who are particularly keen and eager to see you succeed. These are the ones who will become mentors. They’re the ones who won’t just guide you, but will take your hand and make sure you get to where you need to go. 

5. Forming forever relationships 

The thing about building your network is that you’re actually forming lifelong partnerships and possibly even friendships. The longer you stay connected to someone, the more that relationship changes and the closer your connection becomes. What starts off as a relationship based on professional value can transform into a true bond. 

How do you start networking? 

To answer the question “how do you start networking,” you need to think about where you need to start. You need to find the people you want to reach out to and that takes knowing where to look. 

Your first move should be to list out family and friends. Sometimes the best connections are the ones who are already closest. When you start thinking of your family and friends as people you can add to your network, you look at them through a different lens. And hey, maybe no one matches what you’re looking for, but you’d hate for that perfect mentor to be right under your nose and you didn’t even think about it. 

Once you’ve gone through your family and friends, consider these online platforms: 

  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter Spaces 
  • Clubhouse 
  • Ten Thousand Coffees 
  • Lunch Club 
  • Company Websites
  • Your school 

Virtual shouldn’t be your only funnel. You should frequent in-person events, also. Consider these options: 

  • School events 
  • Happy hour at your workplace 
  • Alumni events 
  • Professional networking events 
  • Family functions 
  • Joining sports or social clubs 

How to navigate networking events/career fairs 

Professional networking events can be intimidating, especially if you’re an introvert. But they can be less intimidating if you go into these events with goals and a strategy for achieving those goals. Preparation can ease some of your anxiety and make sure you come out of these events with the outcome you need to help advance your career. 

Here are some tips to help you navigate networking events: 

  • Dress to impress: This doesn’t necessarily mean a pantsuit or suit and tie. It means dress for the occasion––make sure you’re comfortable, but also professional. The first judgement anyone makes is by appearance. 
  • Bring business cards: Depending on the event, exchanging IGs might be the best way to reconnect with someone you meet at the event. Regardless, you should still bring physical business cards. Especially in a digital world, a physical business card stands out even more. 
  • Set goals: Even if your goal is to leave the event with one connection, write it down and make it happen. If there’s someone specific you want to connect with, find the right opportunity and approach them with questions you’ve already prepared. 
  • Make the conversation interesting: Whoever you speak with, you want to leave an impression. It doesn’t mean you pretend to be interested in something you aren’t, but it does mean that you need to show that you can contribute to the conversation intelligently and with new perspectives. 
  • Thank them for their time: You always, always want to say thank you. No one is obligated to share their time with you. If they do, consider it a privilege and thank them for it. 
  • Write a follow-up email: This is a continuation of the last point. You want to make sure that you thank whoever you spoke with, and you also want to make sure you remain top of mind. That person may have connected with several people at the event. Sending a follow-up email within a day of connecting shows that you valued their time and any guidance they gave. 

How to ask for networking coffee chats 

A coffee chat is an in-person meeting that you set up with someone who can potentially be added to your network. In-person can also refer to virtual, and the same principles apply regardless. 

Even if you’re the biggest extrovert, asking for a coffee chat takes some know-how. There are three situations you need to be aware of when asking for a coffee chat, whether virtual or in person. 

1. Reaching out to a known contact

2. Reaching out to a cold contact 

3. Emailing alumni 

When reaching out to a known contact, you can refer to the conversation or interaction that led to you two connecting. When reaching out to cold contacts, you’ll need to state your intentions upfront in a clear and concise email. For alumni, you should play on your connection to your institution. If you know they played on a sports team, mention it. 

Prepped has email and message templates for each of these situations that guide you on what to say and how to say it. 

Read more about how to ask someone for a coffee meeting

How to prepare for networking coffee chats 

Now that you’ve reached out and set a date for a networking coffee chat, it’s time to get ready. Just like any networking event, you’ll want to make a lasting impression. Here’s how to prepare to make sure that happens: 

1. Research the person and prepare questions 

It’s imperative you go into this coffee chat knowing facts about who you’re speaking with. You should know about their career path, any accomplishments, and some interesting tidbits that can help steer the conversation. You should take time to study any publicly available information about them. 

2. Rehearse your elevator pitch 

An elevator pitch is a short summary of your professional value and accomplishments. When you’re about to jump into a coffee chat, starting out with an elevator pitch gives the other person background and clarity on who you are, which should help them better understand how they can help you. 

3. Be on time

We probably shouldn’t have to say this, but we’re going to remind you anyway. Please, whatever you do, make sure that you’re on time. You’ve asked this person to share some of their time with you and one way to show that you respect them is by respecting their time. 

4. Send a thank you note

We keep stressing the importance of thank you notes because they’re that important. Include parts of the conversation that stuck out to you and make sure the note is brief. You want to thank them for their time and let them know you appreciate them sharing knowledge. 

Your thank you note should be sent within a day of your meeting. If you struggle with how to put the thank you note together, check out our post-coffee-chat email template

How to maintain your network 

Building your network is one thing, maintaining that network takes a different type of commitment and focus. Here are some things to think about as you nurture your network throughout your career. 

How often should you reach out to your network? 

When you first engage with someone new in your network, the frequency at which you connect will be much higher than when you’re maintaining that relationship. You might meet every week, every other week, or once a month at the start. As the relationship matures, staying in contact at least once a quarter (every three months) should be a minimum. You can give a summary of what you’ve done over the past few months and ask them what they’ve been up to. 

Offer to help 

Always remember that networking is a two-way street. If someone opens a door for you that helps your career, you should eventually be in a position to ask them how you can be of service. They might say no, but showing that you care and that you are willing to help will go a long way. 

Be aware of their “real life” 

One way to show you care is to be aware of what’s happening in that person’s non-professional life. If they get married and post it on social media, reach out and say congratulations. If they start a new position or start a new company, send them a quick note and ask how or why they did it. The goal is to be authentic and insert yourself into their real life as well as their work one. 

How to network virtually beyond the pandemic 

It’s likely that much of the increased virtual communication will continue long after the pandemic is over. It’s more convenient and less time-consuming than communicating in person, so it’s important you get comfortable with networking virtually. 

When networking virtually, technology plays a huge role. It’s important to keep these tips in mind every time you communicate with someone virtually in a professional setting: 

  • Find a quiet and comfortable place
  • Check that your wifi is working properly
  • If you have roommates, let them know you’ll be on an important call
  • Dress comfortably and appropriately
  • Be mindful of your facial expressions

What not to do when networking 

We’ve given you a lot of info on what you can do to build your network, but let’s take a moment to consider some of the habits or practices you should stay away from when networking. 

  • Don’t let them do all the talking 
  • Don’t ask questions you can google 
  • Don’t play down your accomplishments
  • But also, don’t brag. Find a middle ground
  • Don’t force it. Let your gut tell you if things are going well or not

You’re now Prepped to network like a pro

Are you ready to take on the world and show everyone that you’re capable of building your dream  career? Even if you’re not quite this confident, you now have the tools and resources to help you network like a pro.  

The benefits of networking are clear. If you’re able to find people to add to your network, nurture those relationships,  and maintain those connections over the span of your career, you’ll always be in a better position to succeed. Your network is your gateway, your lifeline, and your support system. If cultivated correctly, your network will be the key ingredient in your job search and in your professional development. 

Prepped wants you to succeed and we’ve developed templates to help you get started with networking. Sign up now and join Prepped to begin growing your network and building your career.