What is networking?
In college, you’re going to hear this word very often: networking. Networking in real life is similar to networking on social media. You gain new followers on Twitter and Instagram, and you add and accept (or reject) friend requests on Facebook and Snapchat. You will end up interacting with your followers (as well as the people that you follow) and friends by liking, sharing, and commenting on their posts. This could also put you in a position to connect with mutual followers and friends, which could boost your posts and increase your followers and friends list.
Professional networking is similar to social networking. The overall idea of networking, whether it’s online or professionally, is to build connections and relationships. Networking in college means that you will build connections with employers, experts in your field, and–the easiest–college professors. Don’t worry, though. It may sound like social networking and professional networking are different, in this day and age of social media and technology, the two can complement each other.
How can you benefit from networking?
College is where you focus on your passions and create the career path you see for yourself. As an 18-year-old, you may not know exactly how to go about that, which is perfectly normal. Establishing connections with your networks will lead to job recommendations, career advice, and other great opportunities. These connections can open many doors for you. Think about a time when you applied for a job or, perhaps, college, and you were asked for a letter of recommendation. A radiant letter of recommendation will not only boost your confidence but could potentially boost your reputation. How many times have you applied for a job and on the application, it asks if you have previously worked for that company or if you were referred by someone who already works there? If you and that company have a mutual network, your chances of getting that job have just increased. It may not be necessarily guaranteed, but it helps boost your application.
Building trust with working professionals is one of the best actions you can take while in college and it’s going to take some practice and motivation to network. Becoming acquainted with people that want to work with people that they trust is a great idea.
What does networking look like at UIUC?
Here at UIUC, seminar classes are offered for undergraduate students, especially for first-year and transfer students. The College of Business, Liberal Arts & Sciences (LAS), the School of Social Work, the Department of Economics (among others) offer seminar classes that pairs a small group of students with an outstanding upper-level mentor. These classes are meant to encourage students to discuss topics and actively learn how to become a leader. As a LAS student, I took LAS 199 during my freshman year. Because the class size was small, there was a better chance for the mentor to connect with us and give us advice as needed. I learned how to engage in professional experiences and make connections between my academics at UIUC and my career goals. These undergraduate seminars are offered during the fall and spring semesters, which is great for first-year and transfer students to take their first steps towards creating their career paths.
Career fairs happen every fall and spring semester for all students. The College of Business, the College of Education, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, you name it, offers career fairs for their students looking to reach out to employers and establish connections. They are offered virtually and in person. Handshake is the best way to find out about these career fairs because it also provides a list of all of the companies that will attend. Capital One, Teach for America, ALDI, Inc., Bank of America, and Epic are some of the companies that have been in attendance for the previous career fairs. Dressing in professional clothing, preparing a well-thought-out greeting and questions, and arriving with an enthusiastic attitude can quickly and easily capture potential employers’ attention and interest. Meeting with various representatives from a company could result in them remembering your name, face, and presence. Standing out from the rest and increasing the likelihood of getting a job post-graduation is never a bad idea.
I know that sitting through lectures can be tiresome. As a senior, I’ve had my fair share of lectures from professors and my parents. However, finding at least one professor that stands out to you and forming a professional relationship with them is always a great idea. My freshman year, I took CMN 102: Introduction to Communication (Theory and Research). It was a well-designed class, I learned about so many interesting topics, and the professor was always welcoming and helpful. In the end, I did very well in the class, and I always remembered the professor throughout the years. When my senior year began, I wanted to intern for a class while in college. Luckily for me, the CMN 102 professor remembered that I took his class and did well. Today, I intern for that class and the same professor. The professor is still as welcoming and helpful as he was when I was a student in his class, and now I get the chance to learn from him and even re-learn some of the topics and gain a better understanding of the class than I did before. I work with students when they need help and consult with the professor for input on the class structure. As we continue to connect, I hope that he will provide me with insight and guidance on how to go about my career path. Maybe I could ask him for a letter of recommendation and he would be more than willing to write one for me. The point is that I made that connection that has proven to be useful and important for me as I make the next steps in my professional career. Find a professor that catches your attention and attempt to spark up a conversation. It can lead to great opportunities in the future.
Campus/non-campus jobs and internships (handshake, LinkedIn
Here’s a personal story: My first official job here on campus was at the Illini Union Bookstore as a cashier. I already had previous experience as a cashier because I worked at multiple stores back home, including PetSmart and Kmart. Those cashiering jobs (as well as my persistent effort at sending in applications) boosted my chance of getting hired at the bookstore. Next, we have me as an admissions blogger! I shared my previous experience with professional and leisure writing, as well as a sample of my writing. It proved to be amazing and now my blogs are posted for all of UIUC to see. This position, along with the connection between the company and UIUC, led me to my writing internship with a small, independent company based in Los Angeles, CA. I am now a published writer, writing five music stories every week. The small jobs and hobbies that I had and still engage in turned into fun, extraordinary experiences for me. You don’t have to stick to one type of experience and you may not always know how you’ll get to where you want to be. The employers that I once worked with have opened doors for me to get to where I am today. Trust the process.
Follow the companies that you’re interested in and work for on Handshake because those companies will post jobs and internships, hoping that someone as qualified as you will apply. Connect with your peers and different companies on LinkedIn and check for any updates. You may also receive several messages from different people who are interested in your resume and profile. Always look into the companies you want to be a part of, reach out to the people around you, and consider how you can use your past experiences to create new opportunities for yourself. It will all be worth it as you get closer to your goals.