4 steps to take in college to build your professional network

Networking during college helps students succeed in the professional world. However, cultivating and growing a network can be difficult when you have a full course load. Here are five ways to network while maintaining a busy academic schedule:

1. Join clubs

One of the most traditional methods of professional networking is still one of the most viable. Joining clubs, whether they be academic, athletic or hobbyist in nature, is a fantastic way to meet like-minded individuals. It’s important to go into these clubs with the right set of expectations, however. Participating only to grow your network is off putting, which is why you should join clubs that you’re genuinely interested in. Have fun and get to know the others in the group.

If you don’t have time to join a club but still want to benefit from the networking opportunities such an environment can provide, see if your university offers social clubs specifically intended for that purpose.

2. Go to office hours

One way in which the professional world differs from academia is the horizontal nature of business. In academia, the lines are drawn sharply: You’re either a student or a member of the faculty. In the world of business, distinctions of position still exist, but they are much more fluid.

Students who want to thrive after college should make an effort to get to know their professors. After all, these individuals are already in the working world. Not only can they provide academic help, but they can also help students progress outside of the college campus. In technical programs, such as those related to engineering or medicine, professors likely have connections to other working professionals in those fields.

Professors are also great references, especially when students have little or no work experience. Cultivate these relationships now to expand your professional network in the future.

3. Create a LinkedIn profile

College students are no strangers to social media, but LinkedIn isn’t quite as popular as apps like Snapchat or Instagram. Students who don’t have a professional profile on LinkedIn should sign up soon. Those who are already on the site should keep their profiles up to date, including uploading a new version of a resume after graduation.

4. Consider an internship

As noted by The Balance contributor Alison Doyle, an internship isn’t a guaranteed route to a specific job but can still benefit college students entering the workforce. At the least, an internship can give students practical experience in their fields of choice. Working in a corporate environment prepares students for the transition away from school and into the professional world.

To make the most of the internship, students need to take it seriously. Though the experience may not lead to a job, it can help students accumulate new references, learn real skills and expand their networks. 

Bonus. Meet with a professional recruiter

As graduation approaches, students should consider reaching out to professional recruiters for help and advice. Speaking with a recruiter provides students with insight into how they’re perceived in the professional world. Recruiters give actionable advice on how to find job opportunities and prepare for interviews.