It doesn't have to be like this. Really.“Networking.” We hear it all the time. "I'm going to a networking event." Of course, the word immediately makes us think of a hotel ballroom, full of people in drab suits with “Hi My Name is” stickers holding drinks in plastic cups, and everyone is milling around exchanging business cards and discussing the finer points of, we don't know, tax law. Fortunately, though, most of the networking you'll do in your professional—and academic—career is much more pleasant, and important, than scuffing around a hotel ballroom trying to avoid the regional manager from the Omaha office, who can seemingly only talk about two things: the IRS and college football.
One of the central credos of the business world is that networking is essential for developing professional relationships. Yet this is true for students as well. Networking is all about and exchanging information and establishing relationships with people. It’s easy to develop your network: you already have connections with past and present coworkers, fellow students, club or organization members, friends, neighbors, and more.
If you’re consciously thinking about your network, you can make the most of the connections that you build throughout your career as a student. Networking can help you:
Get letters of reference
The more you try to create connections with people in your field, the more opportunities you have to meet people who can be a good reference for future applications. When you’re looking to apply to a job or internship, or get a letter of reference for an academic program, knowing people who are established in your field can strengthen your application.
Learn about interesting programs
Are you applying to a graduate program? You're going to need all the intel on that program that you can possibly get! Networking with other students or professors in your field can help you to become more familiar with details about that program and what to expect from that experience. You can get helpful advice about what to expect and become more prepared as you move forward.
Increase your opportunities
Expanding your network will help you learn about new internships or jobs, discover interesting programs and classes, or find out about particular professors that you might want to study with in the future. The more people you are connected with, the wider your opportunities will be, because when you are connected with someone you can tap into their network as well.
Share your experiences
Meeting people who are studying similar things will give you the opportunity to increase your knowledge of a subject. Take advantage of the camaraderie you have with other students in your classes! You can share best practices and learn from each other.
Increase your confidence
The more you talk to new people, the more comfortable you will be in making further connections with people you don’t know. When your confidence in these situations increases, you will be able to more effectively communicate with people in new settings, whether it’s to a professor when discussing coursework or to a potential employer in a job interview—or the regional manager from the Omaha office, who has some opinions about the Nebraska Cornhuskers that he wants to share with you.