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Start Networking When You’re in College

The beginning of a career is often its most difficult chapter. Navigating the workforce with less experience and connections can be tough, especially so soon after a likely lengthy education. Many recently graduated or soon-to-graduate college students might feel particularly disadvantaged, with their focus on school leaving little time to lay their career's groundwork by making connections.

Thankfully, there are time-tested ways to get a head start, some of which are most accessible to people still in college. Below we'll break down some basic ways to grow your network while still a student, many of which will still work long after earning a degree.

Start with your resources at school

Before you jump headfirst into the unknowns of a new career, understand that your school likely has an office dedicated to helping you do exactly that.

"First and foremost, new [and soon-to-be] graduates should start with their collegiate career services offices. These professionals are well connected with local, national and international employers who are especially excited to recruit new graduates," says Lisa Severy, a career counselor with the National Career Development Association and former director of Career Services at the University of Colorado Boulder.

"Career services offices can also help with resumes, cover letters, interviewing, job search strategies, and everything else a new grad needs to build confidence and develop a plan," Severy says. It may seem too early or too low of a priority while you're still dealing with finals, internships and other realities of college life, but it's important to remember these helping hands are here if needed.

Then, start small

This advice applies to all new networkers, but students most of all: It's OK to start small.

"Maybe you have professors who can make connections for you," says career strategist and ReFresh Your Step owner Emily Kapit. "One professor can make three introductions and those three introductions can make a few more." Not every connection will result in exponentially more, but your network will still grow faster than you might expect.

Severy also says those soon to graduate or who have recently graduated could reach out to their school's alumni association, the members of which can help connect graduates with other alumni across many companies and industries. Keep in mind that some members will have moved since graduation, so some opportunities offered may require relocation.

Keep your LinkedIn distinct from your resume

Many students and young professionals already understand the importance of establishing themselves on LinkedIn, but don't capitalize on the platform's unique advantages. Some see their LinkedIn as just another social media profile where their resume happens to live. In reality, since their profiles exist in a sea of well-optimized, more experienced competitors, their qualifications need to especially wow recruiters when appearing in their search results.

"That content should not be responsibility-based," Kapit says of users' work experience sections. Instead of simply listing what you were responsible for, tell readers what you specifically accomplished. This advice holds true for resumes, too, but it should be even more widely applied online. "It should be achievement-based," says Kapit. For a new LinkedIn user to stand out, they need to understand "it's not about what you've done, it's about how well you've done it."

Finally, to best entice others to add themselves to your growing network, don't let them see your entire profile. In your privacy settings, you can choose which pieces of information to withhold or present. These selections can be made under the sections labeled "How others see your profile and network information," and "How others see your LinkedIn activity."

"Let them see your trajectory, let them see where you went to school, and maybe let them see a very well-written 'about' section. But get them to connect with you," says Kapit. "You want to give them just enough so they're like, 'Oh, this would be a really great person to connect with.'"

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