If you've been in college for at least a year, chances are somebody has told you'll land a job after graduation through networking with alumni from your university, your professors, employers you meet at job fairs, etc. But what exactly is networking?
How to start networking: Make sure you're taking advantage of the opportunities happening right on campus -- events scheduled by your college or university's career center and alumni office. This is often the easiest way to start because professionals are coming to your school specifically to talk to students like you. Therefore, people will be more than happy to speak to you. Just make sure you have an idea of what you'd like to say about yourself and any questions you'd like to ask these professionals.
If you're a senior, you can take networking a step further: Chances are you've already come into contact with a number of professors and working professionals that have expressed their desire to give you advice. Keep a record of these people in a Google doc excel sheet with the person's name, contact information, professional title/organization, Twitter handle, when/where you met them and anything else you remember about your interaction. In order to keep yourself from getting all of this information jumbled, add a final column where you can update the information. If you send the person a follow-up email after meeting them (which you should!), note this in your spreadsheet.
Conquer the fear of putting yourself out there: If you've never been to a networking event, you might be a little fearful. So, when you go, ask some friends to go with you. It'll make you more comfortable and confident when you arrive! Just make sure not only to talk to each other. Remember that the purpose of going to the event is to make contacts with other people!
Once you've gotten brave enough to approach people, what should you say?: Walk up with confidence -- being timid won't help you out! Then, shake the person's hand firmly and say, "Hi I'm Rebecca, how are you doing today?" Prepare a 30-second introduction about yourself, which should include what you're studying, what information you're looking for and any other pertinent information you think the person should know about you. It's also important that you come prepared with questions for the person, which can often help the conversation flow. Some standard questions include asking how they got started in the industry, what types of things they work on during an average day and what they suggest you do as a student looking to break into that industry.
Additionally, it's important to remember that any situation could turn into networking, beyond just job fairs and school events. Therefore, it's important to always be prepared.
Use social media as a networking tool: If you don't have a LinkedIn or a Twitter account, you're missing out on a great resource for both networking and job searching. With Twitter being one of the primary social media tools, you can connect with people all over the world who have similar interests as you. For example, if you're interested in advertising, you can follow people who work at advertising agencies. Chances are, they will follow you back and you might even engage in some advertising-related conversations.
Still scared?: Don't worry, it might take a while for you to get a hang of the whole networking thing. But pretty soon you might even find yourself liking it.
To read advice from expert Tom Dezell, author of Networking for the Novice, Nervous, or Naïve Job Seeker, as well as Her Campus correspondents, check out the full article at Her Campus. To read more from Her Campus, including how to find a mentor, click here.