Networking Worries? Professional Development Tips for College Students

networking professional development college tips
Networking. It’s that awful word that causes college students and other young people to cringe. It’s a painful reminder that our days of laying back, doing homework, and taking naps during the day is about to end the moment we graduate and enter “the real world.”

I had the same idea about networking until I attended two conferences that showed me the power behind that one word.

Networking events that work

Before I started networking, I imagined a superficial cocktail party filled with adults in formal business attire, eager to step in front of anyone in order to get recognition.

This has never been my experience with networking. Rather, my recent conference experiences showed me what networking is really all about.

FindSpark, an organization dedicated to setting up young creative graduates with internships and jobs, hosted their annual Find & Follow Your Passion conference in November 2013. The conference organizers packed the day full of energy and excitement.

Sessions included: What Recruiters Won’t Tell You About Your Job Search, The College Experience: What to Do Now for Your Future Career, You Do What for a Living? Unconventional Career Stories, and Use Time Wisely: How to Own the Job Hunt. I attended all four of these sessions and learned a lot more than I had expected. The Find & Follow Your Passion conference proved that networking does not have to be as stressful as everyone makes it seem. I forged solid professional networks and created friendships that I hope to maintain for years to come.

At YTH—where I am a member of the Youth Advisory Board—we value the connections between young people and professionals in the field of technology, sexual, and reproductive health. So, it’s no surprise that the annual conference, YTH Live, is one of my favorite events because of the amazing networking opportunities that emerge from being able to meet researchers, community organizers, and other youth who are all passionate about and engaged in this type of work.

As an undergraduate college senior, I’m stressed out searching for jobs and graduate programs that align with the skill set I’ve developed over the past few years and also incorporate my passion for working with youth. I write this as a thank you to YTH for being a strong advocate in helping me pursue my personal goals in life—and I also write this to let other college students and young people know that it is never too early to start networking.

My advice for networking for professional development

The most successful networking opportunities have been organic environments that encourage me to comfortably talk with others about my passion, goals, and interests. People will recognize you for possessing these traits and remember you for it. This can make a positive impression on people who may be looking for the right candidate for a job or internship, or may be looking for someone to mentor.

Networking done right is not about competing with people trying to get their foot into the door before you, it’s about having memorable conversations. At YTH Live, I was able to talk to prominent researchers and professionals who were just as passionate as I am about sexual and reproductive health education for youth—which is why I look forward to attending YTH Live 2014 this April.

Here is some advice for all those who fear networking: Be proactive. Find conferences and networking events that will feature companies and organizations related to the work you are looking to do.

Also, be realistic with yourself. If you’re looking at a job in finances but mostly have experience in the nonprofit sector, a networking event might not strengthen your ability to succeed in that particular field. Instead, if you have no experience, find an internship or mentorship to get your foot into the door and potentially lead to a full-time position.

Most importantly, take care of yourself. Networking should not stress you out—it should empower you and reassure you that you can succeed in any field in which you are interested. Just take a deep breath, be yourself, and start networking!

Anthony Sis youth leaderAnthony Sis (@a_sis62) is a founding member of YTH’s Youth Advisory Board.

He’s a senior at Connecticut College studying government and gender, as well as women’s studies, with a certificate in public policy and community action. He’s a spoken word poet, dancer, writer, and avid blogger. +Learn more about Anthony

Creative Commons photo by Helga Weber.

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