I just graduated from college where I was primarily a commuter, non-trad student. I believe because of this, my professional network is pretty small. How do I go about expanding my network and gain valuable connections?
Out at Sea
Consider what a ‘network’ means. Did you partake in any college activities, intramural sports, or clubs? Did you volunteer or hold an internship? Your network is everyone in your life (including friends and family) that you’ve connected or worked with that can speak to your character, work ethic and abilities. Everyone has a network. Intentionally expanding your network is another story.
Making connections in a “networking” setting (i.e.: a ‘Meetup’ or industry conference) is all about mutual generosity. Simply put, what do you have that another person would enjoy learning about or utilizing?
Networking Tip #1: Context
Whether you insert yourself intentionally such as asking second degree connections for someone’s info or making yourself available to various communities you’re fighting 2/3 of the battle. LinkedIN is a great way to message people for introductions and request a coffee date from someone whose profile you admire. The best part about LinkedIN is that everyone expects to be professionally messaged, be it recruiters or 3rd degree connections within your industry. Don’t shy away from putting yourself out there in various ways.
Also, use your alumni association! You didn’t just pay big money for 4 years; alumni associations are forever.
Networking Tip #2: Follow-up
You’d be amazed at how many people make the effort to attend events and simply don’t follow-up with their contacts post-interaction. Shoot them a quick email/message on LinkedIN after 24 hours –
Hi there [new contact’s name],
It was great to meet you at [event name] on [date]. I had a great time talking with you about [topic discussed]. Regarding your LinkedIn profile, it says you’re currently working on [current job/organization/side project]—and [relay how it relates to you]. Are you free to grab coffee?
It’s honestly that simple. Keep track of who you met and where, make a networking goal for yourself every month (it’s ok to start with 1!), and be genuine and helpful.