College 

How important is networking, really?

By Marissa Smith

Marissa Smith is a senior at IUPUI studying public relations and advertising. She currently lives in Indianapolis and serves as the communications and special events intern at Indiana INTERNnet, her fifth internship throughout her college career thus far.

College students hear it again and again – network, network, network.

However, building and maintaining professional relationships is often not high on our priorities. The thought of initiating a conversation can be intimidating. Even once introductions and connections have been made, it is difficult for individuals to keep in touch. Schedules overflow with academic, financial and personal responsibilities, leaving little room for attending networking events.

Ignoring networking events and failing to create connections is an easy route, but in fact, 80 percent of current professionals believe networking to be a key part of career success. As Madeline Bell, president and CEO of The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, puts it, “You will likely get a job through who you know rather than through your education or work experience.”

You know that you need to put yourself out there, but how? Find an event! Networking events are out there, and in many forms. These are great opportunities to meet other professionals and students with similar interests as yourself, and they are usually low commitment, both money and time-wise.

Associations are a great place to start. There is an association for almost every industry or interest you could think of, and they often have discounted rates for students. To search through a list of Indiana associations, visit directoryofassociations.com. Many college campuses also have resources to connect their students with associations or other avenues of networking.

Do an Internet search for companies in your field. Generate a list of places where you might want to work someday. Familiarize yourself with staff, so you know who to look for if you attend a networking event.

Indiana INTERNnet is another great resource. This non-profit organization aims to decrease “brain drain” in Indiana by connecting students with internships. The organization hosts several intern engagement events annually and maintains a list of career fairs on their website so that users can be aware of networking opportunities across the state.

Although networking events can come in a variety of formats, from speed-networking to more formal professional development seminars, there are some do’s and don’ts to attending any of these functions. In general, the best thing to do when networking is to be polite and understand that all conversations should be navigated like two-way streets.

For example, when introducing yourself, keep things short and sweet to avoid coming across as self-centered. It’s a good idea to practice your “elevator pitch” before you get to the event; whittle down any personal details until you have a concise but informative introduction that is less than 30 seconds. This will ensure that you stick only to the most pertinent details and avoid overwhelming the person you’re chatting with. Don’t dominate the conversation by interrupting the person or immediately asking about job openings.

Getting started can be intimidating but remember: You won’t get the job if no one knows your name.

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