How to Build Your Professional Network in College

3D Social Networking Chris Potter via Compfight

Building professional connections during college is vital for students who are serious about advancing their careers. Professional connections are not necessarily social connections, although the two can overlap in some instances.

Gaining a competitive edge in the job market is often a combination of who you know (your professional network) and what you know (your skill set). If you think you can succeed on your own, you’re both right and wrong. Yes, you can succeed alone, but the road is much harder and the possibility of failure is much higher.

Even the great geniuses of the past would not have been able to succeed without some form of partnership. It was Isaac Newton who said, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

By building a reliable professional network, you too can stand on the shoulders of giants. At the very least, you will have a strong network of people to catch you when you fall, and to help you climb back up again.

Don’t party too often or too hard.

Spending too much time partying is hard on your health. It disrupts your sleep patterns, and your brain and body both need rest to function properly. As a college student, you cannot afford to lose focus. You are spending a huge wad of cash for an experience that will land you a job so you can earn more money over a lifetime. Once upon a time, a college degree may have been enough, but today you have to stand out among your peers.

If you ever feel lame while studying and your peers are chugging beer and blowing off assignments, rest assured that in ten years, you will probably be drinking expensive Scotch, while they will still be chugging  PBR and cursing “the system.”

Talk to your professors.

Most professors are actually really interesting people. They spend a lot of time with young adults, they all live and work under the same academic pressure that you do. In addition to lecturing hundreds of students, grading hundreds of papers and responding to thousands of e-mails; professors are required to publish new works regularly. They know what you’re going through, and because they are professionals, they have little sympathy for excuses.

Some professors have more time than others. They balance work and life just like you do, so take advantage of office hours when possible. Be genuine. Tell your professor about your career plans, and ask them for advice. Ask questions about a recent lecture; discuss an upcoming project or assignment; and ask if there is anything you can do to help.

Don’t waste a professor’s time by stopping by just to chat. Come prepared with a topic of discussion. Once you have the information you needed, thank the professor and send a follow-up thank you e-mail later. The goal is to eventually become close enough to your professor that he or she 1) remembers your career goals 2) considers you a promising student 3) will introduce you to other professionals.

Build alliances with other promising students.

Mark Zuckerberg and Dustin Moskovitz are shining examples of how the right alliances can bring huge pay-offs. However, not every student is a prodigy with a billion dollar idea.

Pay attention to the students who are answering questions in class and are leading provocative discussions. You might be tempted to hate them for one-upping you, but the old phrase, “If you can’t beat them, join them,” definitely applies here. Ask the student to join a study group, or give them kudos for bringing insight to the classroom. You can even invite them over for beer pong if you think the social connection could be made.

The rule of thumb when building any alliance is mutual benefit. Know your strengths and weaknesses. Seek out others who excel in areas you don’t, and find a group in which you can contribute your strongest attributes. For example, if you are the king of throwing parties, make sure you have an alliance with someone who is rigidly disciplined about studying.

Don’t invest too much time or energy in a friend who you couldn’t recommend for a job, or whom you wouldn’t hire yourself. It might sound cold, but these connections are your network for your professional career. Chances are, if you’re spending too much time with people whose qualities you don’t admire or respect, you aren’t setting yourself up for success.

Aniya Wells is a freelance blogger whose primary focus is writing about online degree programs. She also enjoys investigating trends in other niches, notably technology, traditional higher education, health, and small business. Aniya welcomes reader questions and comments at aniyawells@gmail.com.

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