As you near the end of your graduate studies and plan to enter the workforce, one thing you cannot afford to forget is the art of networking. The better you build your network while you are still in school, the better you will be prepared for your experiences after it. To help you think through effective avenues to network and make relationships now, here are some important tips to keep in mind:
Talk to your professors. The people who are teaching your classes are often people who have experience in more than academia. Maybe the professor who has favored your papers would have suggestions for you regarding where to go next. Perhaps your academic adviser would have a contact worth sharing with you to expand your network.
Get outside your bubble. It’s great to make connections with the people in your department and classes, but you will expand your network when you reach outside that bubble, too. Go to seminars. Stay after for the Q&A at events. Connect with people outside your immediate sphere of influence now, while you are still a graduate student.
Go to or speak at conferences. Now is the time to go to as many conferences as you can, meet people in your field, have more face-to-face interactions with relevant voices, etc. Plan to attend all the relevant conferences in your area, and if you get invited to speak or present, take the chance! The more you step out of your comfort zone to get your face in front of people in your field, the better.
Prepare for events. Say you are going to a new seminar or presentation where you have the chance to network with professionals in your field. Before you go, do a little research on the subject area, what will be discussed, etc., and have one or two questions ready that will be useful for the group.
Talk with presenters after events. When a seminar or other event ends, approach the person who spoke and give a genuine compliment on his or her work. Ask for a card or email address, and you walk away with a potential connection.
Reach out to authors. When you read a good article in an academic journal, look up the authors online. If you can find one’s email address, take the time to say hi and that you appreciated something about the piece. If you have a follow-up question or meaningful comment, go ahead and share that, too. This can open a conversation with someone who is already working hard in your field.
Connect with bloggers. Find a blogger who is an expert in your field. Comment on posts and/or send a personal email. It does not need to be lengthy, but the idea is to get your name out in front of the contact and make a real connection.
Develop your own memory devices. When you attend a big event and collect a lot of business cards, it’s all too easy to walk away with a big stack of names and no memory of who is represented on them. Find a way to avoid this. You might scribble a little memory-jogger on the back of a card or keep a file on your computer where you note everyone you met after every event.
Get active online. Today’s world is online as much as offline, so do not neglect the power of a strong social media presence. Future employers are likely to Google you — and you do not want them to find negative or lacking information available when they do. Control your reputation by starting a blog, tweeting industry-relevant articles, and making comments on websites where the people you want to meet are hanging out.
Remember to give as much as you hope to get in networking. Nobody likes feeling like he or she is being used, and if the people in your contacts sense that is what you are doing, they may be leery of you. Think about other people. Ask questions and be helpful. Networking is as much about making relationships as it is about making relationships with lots of people.
Author bio: Cindy Madden is Communications Manager at Stevenson University's School of Graduate and Professional Studies. She emphasizes the importance of working adults successfully completing their bachelor’s or earning their master’s degrees to advance their careers.