As a college student, one of the career strategies imperative for success is building a professional network. Now, in this virtual world we are navigating, we must all learn how to connect differently with people to create and maintain quality relationships.
Networking can mean different things to different people, but it does not lead to a real rapport unless you take the necessary steps to put others first.
If you have networked with someone recently and want to develop a professional relationship, then the strategic question you should be asking is, “How can I help you?”
This simple question is the beginning of cultivating a genuine acquaintance and the reciprocal process of a partnership.
Before you reach out to those in your industry, here are some tips to consider:
- Be professional — You are always on an interview and this is no exception. Refrain from using slang or text language in your message.
- Be kind — Have a positive tone and craft a message that expresses your genuine interest to help.
- Be patient — This is a seed you are planting. Most people will respond when they have availability, so don’t put a timer on when to expect a response.
- Be diligent — Don’t get discouraged and stop with contacting one or two professionals, continue to reach out to others who interest you.
So, how do you get started?
Let’s focus on LinkedIn since this is the social platform most professionals frequent. Review your profile, and make sure it is up to date with relevant information (latest position, project, degree, certification, etc.) and double check that your photo is professional (this is important).
- Survey your connections to determine who you haven’t corresponded with in a while and should probably check in with. You may need to remind them of where you met.
- Check out your connections’ second level contacts and be prepared to ask for an introduction during the conversation (normally it is the connections of your connections who you need to know).
- Make sure you follow groups on LinkedIn that align with your interests and network with professionals in these areas. It’s easier to build relationships when you have something in common.
- Use your status as a student to be curious and create an introduction that is brief but formal. Let the person know why you want to connect and if you can offer help in some way.
- After your request has been accepted, send a “thank you” message to illustrate your gratitude.
- Make it a habit to follow up with your connections periodically to keep the virtual conversation going. This is essentially the start of a professional relationship.
If your invitation for help is accepted, hopefully you have the expertise or information that is useful. If not, take this opportunity to introduce your contact to one of your connections who can assist. When you proactively offer your assistance, you may be surprised at the response you receive from this transparent gesture and even what may develop for you career-wise as a result of reaching out.
Ultimately, the goal is to move from networking to building quality, professional relationships that you can rely on for a lifetime.