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THE IMPORTANCE OF NETWORKING AND HOW TO DO IT AT UNIVERSITY

THE IMPORTANCE OF NETWORKING AND HOW TO DO IT AT UNIVERSITY

For many people, the term ‘networking’ conjures up images of contrived meetings and forced interactions. Making a friend is an authentic, organic experience, but networking involves a much more conscious self-interest. ‘How can this person help me?’ sounds like an inherently selfish question to ask oneself.

WHAT IS NETWORKING AT UNIVERSITY AND COLLEGE?

But networking is about establishing relationships with people – that may also include a genuine friendship – which are nonetheless based on understanding, respect, and a mutual benefit. While it may feel slightly odd to attend seminars and events and approach complete strangers for the sole purpose of finding people who might be of use to you at some point in the future, forming strategic relationships and alliances is a part of life, and, like it or not, a large part of professional and financial success. Below are some of the most important things to understand about networking while at school.

NETWORKING EVENTS ARE FOR NETWORKING

For some, especially those who crave authentic experiences, networking events (whether organized by a particular faculty, campus-wide, or altogether independent from the university or college) can seem like a daunting process. You walk up to someone you potentially have never met before, extend your hand, and introduce yourself fully knowing that you are appraising their usefulness to you, and they are doing the same on the other end.

You need to put this discomfort in the back of your mind. Everyone at the event knows what you are there for. You are trying to make interpersonal connections that will help you. If you find someone you want to include in your professional network, and they are receptive, then it is important to create that relationship as there is potential value for both parties.

ESTABLISH A GOAL FOR YOUR NETWORKING EVENT

A LinkedIn article entitled “How to Nail Your Next Networking Event in 5 Easy Steps” has setting a goal as the first, and prerequisite step for all networking functions. Go into your networking event with a clear idea of how many people you want to talk to, and how many new connections you would like to add to your network. It helps to set a goal before beginning any kind of networking event because it makes the task seem less daunting. Successfully navigating a multi-hour networking event full of hundreds of people can feel like the most intimidating task of your life. Instead, set your parameters before beginning.

Ask yourself how many people you would like to meet. If the networking opportunity offers a list of all attendees, along with their credentials, hobbies, interest, and previous work/academic experience, do your homework before going so that you can strike up a more genuine, more authentic conversation with the people you would like to talk to. At an event with over 200 attendees, you are likely only going to want to talk to a handful of them anyways.

LISTEN BEFORE YOU SPEAK

When meeting someone for the first time, whether it be a professional connection, or a friendship, many people want to make a great, first impression. You want to make a good impression on the person you’re talking to, which, in part, means communicating and advertising the good qualities you bring to the table. While it is important to do this well, and to do it without sounding arrogant, or full of bravado, it is equally, if not more important to understand that networking at university and college involves a healthy amount of listening.

A 2018 Forbes article entitled “To Communicate Well, Listen First” claims that in order to even hope to have a fruitful conversation with someone (or a group of people), you must first understand their needs and concerns in order to then respond with something that will resonate with them. Simply jumping into your sales pitch, or spiel about what you bring to the table, or why someone should give you the time of day means you will likely end up talking past the person.

Furthermore, networking often implies talking to people you know very little about. If you want to form any kind of a personal connection with the individuals you are talking to, really listening to what they have to say will allow you to come up with much more thoughtful responses to their statements and questions. A common mistake made by people who do not understand the art of conversation is using the time when they are not speaking, and should be listening, to go over what they are dying to say themselves. If you are on the edge of your seat waiting to blurt out what’s on your mind, it will likely show.

THE VALUE OF A PROFESSIONAL NETWORK

Ask any successful person you know – whether it’s a friend, a relative, or a boss – and most, if not all of them will undoubtedly credit their social and professional network with opening the door to opportunities. You hear people talk frequently about their “shot,” and who gave it to them – someone who recognized their talent or value, and provided them with an opportunity to demonstrate what they were made of.

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