Quick question before we delve into the details of networking for students… Which is more important: money or people?
I am because you are is a mantra that has stuck with me ever since I read about it – thanks to Wole Soyinka. I’m hoping that you’ll find out just how much weight that phrase holds by the time you’re done reading this.
What is Networking for Students?
Networking has been defined by several scholars. An encompassing meaning would be: “a proactive attempt to build and maintain relationships for mutual benefits”. The global world today is fast-paced and tech-rich. That is, without the right connections, you can’t go far. Having a clear understanding of the concept of networking for students can significantly and positively impact your personal and career success.
This piece gives you information on the places you can build new relationships, and how to go about it. It also covers best practices as regards networking for students, as well as things to avoid. The truth is that you already know most of these things. All you need is a direct and formal reminder.
3 Places that Support Effective Networking for Students
Networking means building and nurturing any kind of relationship for a purpose. As a student, a Nigerian student, there are a million reasons why you’d need to be connected to certain people. You might want access to information and trends in your chosen trade of interest. It could be solely for first-hand access to opportunities related to your current course of study. Whatever the reasons might be, there are 3 major places that you can build professional relationships and network while in school.
Virtual social platforms
Without pausing for a breath, you can easily list at least four social networks to which you belong. WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, TikTok, LinkedIn… I’m fairly certain I’m missing a lot more, but these are the common ones. There are a thousand different ways to build a professional relationship on these platforms. Common ones include creating and joining groups and actively participating in trending conversations.
The trick to successful networking here is to keep an open mind, and be present on at least two of them (managing an online presence is another big job, but still…).
Sure, there’ll be some friend or connection requests from people you barely know. There’ll be the miscreants that only text you with the hope of doing something vulgar and irritating. There’ll be a lot of misfires from your end too. But there aren’t enough reasons in the world why you should decide to cut yourself off social media forever.
Your next big thing is somewhere on the web; let’s not even begin to talk about how the world has gone digital. All you need to do is screen out the noise and focus on your target. In this case, that is building a professional network.
This covers all possible platforms that connect you to people (regular or leaders) in your industry. Your industry here could either be academics related or trade-related. You know most Nigerian students have side hustles that they’re passionate about. So, professional networks would include trade associations, departmental conferences, developmental workshops and training, etc.
Here, your communication skills have to be top-notch. You want to be able to make an impression on anyone that approaches you and vice versa.
This refers to informal gatherings like parties, departmental congresses, restaurants, movie theatres, and even your school hostel. These are places where, by default, you feel comfortable. It rarely occurs to you to go beyond pleasantries, jokes, and constantly pressing your phone. You should start seeing beyond the surface.
Make an effort to get to know the people around you. Not only for what you can get from them but also for what you can contribute to them. Remember, effective networking isn’t complete if there are no mutual benefits involved. Like a lot of other developmental skills, you give and you take.
9 Important and Effective Networking Tips for Students
Have an elevator pitch about yourself on the go
This is especially important for professional networking. In a gathering full of professionals, you won’t have all the time in the world to talk to those present. This is why you should have an elevator pitch off the top of your head; a 60-second introduction that talks about your skills, your current professional status, achievements, and prospects.
The goal here is to make the listener interested enough to stay longer with you. You blow this, and you might lose a potentially big opportunity.
An elevator pitch also works in other networking settings. For instance, at a wedding party, you see someone with unique footwear and you know for sure you can make something better or similar. First, compliment the person. Then, find a way to mention that you make shoes too. You’re not trying to sell something. You’re trying to get them to remember you the next time they need your services.
Plan ahead who you want to meet
This will depend on the kind of function you’re attending. If it’s a professional gathering, then you should do your homework. Find out as much information as possible about the attendees. This will not only prepare you for how to behave or what to say. It’ll also help you determine if that gathering is for you.
If none of the attendees seems interesting to you, it might be a good idea to sit back and search for other opportunities. If you’re not interested in them, there’s a small chance you’ll put in the effort to impress them.
If it’s a social/casual gathering, it’s also important to be fully aware of what everyone there has in common. If you can’t relate to that common ground, then it’s probably not worth the effort. Have a purpose for every place you step foot on.
Initiate a conversation
There are two main groups of people at many gatherings – those that are interacting and those that are enjoying their own company despite the crowd. Don’t be surprised that some of the people you plan to meet would also have plans to meet others. So, if anything good is going to come out of that event, you’d have to be the driving force.
This is where your personality would either work for you or against you. If you come prepared, then it’ll be a breeze.
You’re going to sell yourself alright; to get someone to know and like you. Make sure you’re only selling things that exist. Whether social, professional or casual, honesty is very important. You don’t want to create a false impression of yourself or confuse the people you’re talking to. Be clear and be genuine. It’s easier to be you than to try to keep up with an elaborate lie.
Ask questions and pay attention to the people around you. The sole purpose of networking for students is to build relationships first. You can’t do that if you don’t show your interest by asking questions and listening to the responses. Being curious about specific and relevant topics gives you information and makes you memorable.
At the end of every networking event, everyone has to go home but that doesn’t mean the relationship is over. It is your duty as a seeker of new and valuable professional networks to follow up after the event. If you made a good impression and asked the right questions, you might’ve gotten the contact information of one or two people.
After some days or weeks, make sure to reach out. Reference specific conversations that make them remember you vividly. It doesn’t have to be a long conversation, but there should be a reason for you to reach out asides from courtesy.
For instance, if you managed to pitch yourself to someone you found interesting, you could reach out to ask for advice on how to get internships in your field of interest or how to develop a certain skill you both had in common. Or you could ask if there’s a new development he/she would like to talk about. Whatever you do, don’t say “just checking up on you” and walk away.
Hello Ms Halimat,
How are you doing?
I enjoyed our conversation about how you started your content writing career. I’ve been thinking about some of the things you said, and I believe I’m ready to make a move in that direction.
So, I was wondering if you know of any hands-on internship that I could enrol in, to get some experience. Paid or unpaid is fine.
I’ll be looking forward to your response. Enjoy the rest of your week.
From the above, the receiver has a clear picture of how they can help you. If he/she finds anything remotely helpful, they’ll remember that message and link you up immediately. Opportunities aren’t magic. This is one of the ways people blow.
As much as people might want to help you. They need to know that you bring something to the table too. Check the definition of effective networking again, it says mutual benefits. Which means it has to go both ways. Now, you might be wondering, I’m a student, what could I possibly have to offer.
A lot. You have a lot to give.
Look, you might not be able to skyrocket their sales or buy a new machine to boost production, but you could offer to help in communication with their intended audience by writing, designing or correcting something.
Show them that despite being a student, you haven’t been sitting on your ass doing nothing else. Make reasonable and polite commentaries and suggestions about their current practices. This will show them that you pay attention and you’re very motivated.
Focus on building the relationship
Despite what you might wanna ask for, nurture the relationship first, before asking. I wouldn’t want to drag this any further. It’s similar to all that has been mentioned earlier. Don’t just go ahead and ask for something, e.g. scholarship opportunity or a job. That’s a huge turnoff. Instead, let them know that the relationship matters a lot to you and that they’ll be getting something in return. Don’t underestimate the mindset of “what’s in it for me?”.
Say thank you
Cliche, I know. For real though, people – including you – love being appreciated. This might not get you your dream opportunity, but it’s a little something you should add to your “networking for students” kit.
Networking for Students: 4 Things to Avoid
For the sake of emphasis, the list below is a collection of things you shouldn’t do while trying to build a professional network or relationship.
Reaching out only when you need something
Give. Give. Give. Then ask. Okay, maybe this won’t always be the case, but you get the gist. Nobody owes you anything, for real. So find a way to offer something before asking in return. As a student, you could offer your curiosity and subtle praises to the person at the other end. Anything that portrays your interests will do.
Not following up
This is especially bad if you were specifically asked to reach out within a certain period. If you think you’ll forget, set a reminder on your calendar. You don’t want to be perceived as an unserious fellow.
Rejecting a connection because of perceived status
Unfortunately, this happens both online and in real life. There’s a chance you’ve rejected a connection request for reasons you can’t explain. First impressions matter, but second and third chances can be gold mines too.
Being and staying shy
It is normal to feel shy or confused when it comes to networking, but at some point, you have to move past that. Shy people don’t speak up, and if you’re not speaking up, nobody will know how you can help them, and they, you.
Read also: How to have a conversation with a stranger
4 Benefits of Networking for Students
Gain new insights
Learning never ends, they say. From the right network, you’ll gain insights on industry trends, how to do things smarter, and how to get better results. You’ll see some things so easy and you’ll wonder how you’ve never encountered them before.
Visibility and career-building
Networking, done the right way, makes you memorable. Visible. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it certainly happens. And this is another reason why you should start networking when you’re a student. It’s easier to make mistakes and dust them off without much consequence.
Unfiltered access to opportunities
Internships, job and research opportunities, workshops and training, volunteering programs, industry-based friendly competitions… the list goes on. When you place yourself in the right circle, you’ll have these opportunities thrown in your laps even when you’re not searching. Believe me, that’s a fancy way to live.
Networking opens you up to comfortable and challenging situations. The people you connect with have the power to push and influence you until you reach a level of confidence you’ve never imagined. It gives you access to people of different experiences and that alone is a life changer.
If you answered money earlier, here’s my advice. Try to observe life from an entirely different angle. In fact, if you’re Nigerian, you need to seriously reconsider that answer.
People. You. Me. We’re all we have. You don’t get to the top without help from people, and vice versa.
That being said, networking for students in the university is super important for many reasons. So, make a decision today. What’s the first networking move you’ll make?
Maybe open that Facebook or LinkedIn page, and comment on something you find useful? Or visit a lodge-mate and have an actual conversation? You can also consider a student networking event like a dinner party or something similar.
Whatever it’s going to be, give it your best shot.
- An experienced SEO content writer and an author of several short stories. She helps individuals and businesses communicate effectively with their audience; by writing, proofreading and editing. She believes in the power of words; the structure, tone and flow. And she's a devoted lover of the paranormal and fantasy world.