The time to start networking is now. As a student, you can begin taking advantage of the network-building opportunities available to you online and build a sizeable contact network by graduation.
“It is never too early to start networking,” says Raelynn Grasso, a UMGC career advising specialist. “Don’t wait until you need a job to build your professional network. Whether you are new to a profession, starting a side hustle, or are a seasoned professional, building a network is critical to your overall career success.”
What Is Networking?
For jobseekers, networking is the ongoing process of establishing and maintaining relationships with people in their field to make themselves known as skilled professionals.
People engage in networking for different reasons, but for many college students, the primary objective is to secure employment. According to a survey by LinkedIn, 85 percent of all jobs are filled via networking.1
Networking is to job-seeking as word of mouth is to marketing. It’s no secret that, even today, word of mouth is still the most powerful force in marketing.2 It’s the same force that causes social media posts to “go viral.” Networking works in a similar fashion, because, like consumers, employers often put more stock in what others say about you than what you say about yourself.
Benefits of Networking
While finding employment in your chosen field may be your primary objective, there are many other personal and professional benefits that come with networking.
First, networking helps build confidence. The more you meet and communicate with new people, the more refined your interpersonal and communications skills will naturally become. Once you’ve landed your first job or internship, you’ll be expected to communicate well with others, and having great social skills will give you the confidence to be effective in your interactions on the job.
Second, when you expand your circle of contacts, you learn things—and you never know what bit of new information might help you in your career. Through networking, you might learn about developments and trends within your industry, get to know who the top players are in your field, or gain insights about an organization you have your eye on. Most significantly, networking is often where people find out who's hiring for the positions they're seeking.
Beyond the job search, networking is a way to plug yourself into a community of people with common interests. As you share information with colleagues about your challenges and experiences, you can often gain a fresh perspective on them that could lead to more successful outcomes.
Also, developing relationships with more seasoned veterans, many of whom are happy to offer their expertise, enables you to build a support system of mentors who can help you in your career and provide valuable advice. Such relationships can often lead to lifelong friendships.
Ways to Network as a Student
Your professors are an excellent resource when it comes to networking. UMGC professors are experienced scholar-practitioners who are leaders in their fields. They have insights and experience that go beyond the course curriculum. Many also have industry connections of their own.
Your classmates can also be a valuable resource, since you're bound to share common academic interests and goals. Joining and becoming an active member in student clubs and organizations is another way to connect with fellow UMGC students from around the globe. Most student organizations have a virtual component and opportunities for members to participate regardless of their location.
UMGC also offers avenues for networking that are available to you for the rest of your life. One is the UMGC Alumni Association. Indeed, one of the best things you can do to build your contact base is to connect with our global network of more than 270,000 UMGC alumni.
Another is to avail yourself of UMGC's Lifetime Career Services. Use our Community Connect program to meet alumni and industry professionals for career guidance and mentorship. Attend one of the online or in-person job fairs and other career events hosted by UMGC’s career center, where you can meet recruiters and get job leads.
Don’t forget your personal connections outside of school, too. Your friends, family, work colleagues, and others in your personal circle all potentially have a stake in your success—and you in theirs. You'll also want to build your online presence on social media, especially with LinkedIn® professional networking services. And be sure to stay informed and participate in industry events and professional conferences whenever you can.
Of course, you should always value and nurture your relationships. Cultivating and maintaining contacts requires your personal attention. Once you’ve made a connection with someone, follow up and check in with them periodically. Take an interest in what they’re doing, and be a resource for them, as well.
“Make an effort to add value and engage regularly with your network,” says Grasso. “Be honest and genuine with your interactions, as networking is built upon trust. It’s important to invest in the other person first and remember that networking takes time.”
If you take the time and put in the effort while you’re still a student to make networking activities a regular part of your routine, you’ll discover a lifetime of benefits that go beyond finding a job.
1 "New Survey Reveals 85% of All Jobs are Filled Via Networking" | LinkedIn | 2016
2 "The (Un)Expected Report: Comparing 2021 consumer expectations to marketer priorities" | R.R. Donnelley & Sons Company | November 2021