How many times have you heard the saying, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know?” Probably more times than you can count. But, it’s absolutely a “must-apply” piece of advice when it comes to networking for success in your career and business goals.
Networking can unlock new hidden opportunities, spark new ideas for your goals, help you get closer to (or even land) your dream job, and fast-track you to success.
But, networking is an art. And, unless you’re a prodigy, none of us are born good artists. Especially for those of us who feel concerned about coming across as “sleazy” or “slimy,” networking can be very difficult without a blueprint.
The good new is that, as the old saying goes, “Proper preparation prevents poor performance.” And, with this ultimate guide, you’ll learn exactly how to prepare yourself for success with networking and build your rolodex of connections whether you’re a college student now who’s looking to get an early start, or a recent graduate who’s looking to enter the workforce.
As difficult of an art as networking is to master, it’s not impossible. And, the ones who are willing to put in the work to master it are also the ones who get the top opportunities available — opportunities most don’t even know about because they’re reserved for people with relationships, and not so much for people with skills alone or a degree.
So, with that in mind, if you’re willing to work hard, let’s dig in.
10+ Different College Networking Options
A list comprised by career expert, Maciej Duszyński, here are your main options for college networking:
- Visit Your School’s Career Office (i.e. use your school’s career services)
- Join Alumni Associations
- Use LinkedIn and Other Social Media
- Connect With Your Professors
- Reach Out To People You Already Know (i.e. reach out to your family and friends)
- Inquire with Your Local Chamber of Commerce
- Attend Local Networking Events
- Join Organizations
- Volunteer Or Do An Internship (i.e. volunteer, do an internship, or shadow)
- Get Involved On Campus (i.e. honor societies, professional clubs, social sororities and fraternities, jobs, student media, club spots, etc.)
- Get In Touch with People In Your Dream Job To Be Your Mentors
But, if you want the step-by-step process to the best option out of this entire list, keep reading. We’re only getting started.
The Best Option For You
The best college networking option for you depends on what you’re looking for and how hard you’re willing to work.
If you’re looking for a lower-in-effort way to build your network slowly, maybe simply getting involved on campus and letting connections develop organically over time is your way to go.
But, if you’re reading this as an overachieve, don’t worry, there’s an option in this list with your name on it. And, that’s why, rightfully so, I saved it for last.
Get the People Who Have Your Dream Job to Be Your Mentors
You can get people to be your mentors who already work in your dream company — because that’s also one of the benefits of networking early while you’re in college.
You don’t have to settle for working in a company you hate that has a few people you “sorta like.” You can take a look at the companies you would love to work for and search for people you admire that work in those companies. (Or, go about it the opposite way, but that’s a bit trickier, and you’ll see why below.)
How To Get A Mentor
By getting a mentor now and choosing your mentor wisely (preferably someone who already works at your dream company), you can set yourself up for success before you’ve even graduated.
And, if you’re a recent graduate, perfect timing. Many people go their whole lives never implementing the strategies you’re about to learn and their careers suffer because of it.
While they’ll be blaming the job market, you’ll be meeting with influential, career-making decision-makers left and right. And, you’ll be scoring opportunities that will take you to the next level before too long.
Step #1: Get More Value To Share
If you want to connect with people who are high up, great. But, they don’t want to connect with takers. So, separate yourself from the takers (and show a little friendliness) and you’ll be good.
How do you do that? Bring more value to the table. And, I recommend doing this by starting and growing a side hustle.
Here are a few recommendations of side hustles you can start that can add value to the lives of those you want to connect with.
Start Social Media Marketing
More exposure helps everyone. For the person you want to connect with, more exposure could mean more customers, more opportunities, or simply more exposure (that leads to opportunities to gain more value down the line).
Either way, when you know how to grow a following (or at least create and plan high-quality content), you become very valuable to those who need it.
Since this is only a side hustle, this is something you could offer to people you admire and really want to connect with for free. You can put together a content plan that shares how your services (which you’re giving to them for free) might be able to help them and the range of followers they could expect to gain in a month.
As your social media marketing skills and side hustle grows, so does your influence. And, especially when you’re connecting with entrepreneurs or authors, you can even offer to shoutout their products on your social media in exchange for a meeting with them.
Sell Valuable Products Online
One of the benefits of being an “influencer” is that people send you free stuff all the time. But, many of the people you admire may not be influencers (yet, we never know the future). And, might appreciate being treated like an influencer by receiving those free gifts.
For example, you can start a side hustle selling t-shirts. There are a number of websites that will let you customize a t-shirt design and then buy them in bulk.
Then, you can give them to the people you want to connect with for free.
On top of being able to share that value for free, a t-shirt business will teach you the basics of business (such as inventory management, pricing, supply, and demand) which will help you in conversations with these high-status individuals when it’s time to exchange ideas.
Start A Professional Blog
It doesn’t necessarily have to be about business in particular. But, if you’re looking for the benefits of networking as a college student, starting a travel blog won’t do as much for your credibility and authority as a blog about business or “high-status” profession-related topics.
If you’re a college student studying topics such as psychology, sociology, philosophy, or psychiatry, a blog on any of those topics would help as well. The idea is that when it’s time to connect with someone, you can share your work and it will hopefully add value to their life.
To clarify, that doesn’t make non-profession-related blogs like a travel blog a “bad” idea. Plenty of people love to travel and if you’ve been to those places and can share personal experiences, even better. That can actually raise your status as well-traveled, well-cultured individual who can recommend great spots your contacts can visit for a good time.
Unfortunately though, let’s face it, most people living the college student lifestyle are too broke to afford to travel. And, starting a blog writing about travel experiences you never actually experienced doesn’t do as much for you as sharing knowledge you acquired that helps others through your blog.
So, the point here is to create a blog about something that’s professional and valuable enough to help raise your status. (For example, no offense to the plumbers out there, but a blog about plumbing and toilets might not do as much good for your status or network.)
That aside, regardless of the blog you start, you can build an email list and then when you want to reach out to that person you admire, if they have a personal product or service they’re selling that benefits their life or personal business, you can offer to recommend their products to your email list to land that meeting. (Blogs are great for email list building.)
Start a YouTube Channel
Not unlike the above, it’s not so much about “making it” in any of these side hustles. It’s more about showing you’re a driven, ambitious person who is going places and working hard. And, who does their best to produce high-quality work.
That can be reflected in the content you create. There are plenty of YouTube courses you can take to improve your content creation skills and, with the help of Google, lots of research you can do to learn more about your topic of choice and then share what you know.
When you share your most popular or most valuable video with your contact, they’ll be more likely to want to connect with you (so long as you carry yourself as a high-status individual when you show yourself in the videos).
Start An Online Podcast
Interviews are still one of the best ways to connect with billionaires, executives, and celebrities.
You’re getting content and they’re getting exposure. You’re getting exposure based on who you interview and they’re getting to share and spread their message on your platform. It’s a positive, value-giving cycle that keeps running until you run out of interviews to do.
You can offer to interview your target contact to get closer to them which, if they accept, would give them exposure and a chance to show off what they know.
A true win-win situation.
Start A Fiverr Gig
This could be a range of things, the possibilities are truly endless on this one.
But, this where it’s best to think about the kind of person you want to connect with and develop the skills that they would need. For example, if it’s a very popular blogger, you can start a gig designing eBook covers for lead magnets, doing web design, copywriting, or something else a blogger might need.
Then, once again, offer that as free value to get the relationship started.
Still, starting a side hustle is not an absolute must or prerequisite. For one, overemphasizing or “overselling” the value that you bring to the table could lead your potential mentor to look at the relationship as more of a colder, transactional, “one off” exchange. And, that’s not ideal if you want to move the relationship to a deeper level with more rapport and long-term possibilities.
Secondly, as you’ll see below, sometimes simply being someone who understands the social exchange is enough to get your foot in the door, book that meeting, and start building that relationship.
Step #2: Narrow Down Your Dream Role
The following is what NYT bestselling author, Ramit Sethi, calls the “window shopping strategy.”
The “Window Shopping Strategy”
- Upgrade to a Premium account on LinkedIn.
- Browse the high-level list of industries.
- Select one that sounds interesting to you.
- Search for open jobs in those industries. (Go to https://www.linkedin.com/jobs/ and type in the industry you selected from the list.)
- Narrow down your search by experience level. (At the top, click on “Experience Level” and select the appropriate level to further narrow your search.)
- “Window Shop” the results!
Sethi: “Browse the results! Click on different job titles that sound interesting to you and browse the requirements. Simply ask yourself, ‘does this seem interesting to me?’ If it does, save the title and link in a tracking spreadsheet for later deep research. If nothing seems to be resonating with you, that’s okay. Take a step back and try something else — for example, jobs at a different experience level, or start over from scratch at the Industries List. The goal is not to find a perfect list right now, but a starting point.”
Step #3: Narrow Down Your Dream Companies
And, below is what Ramit Sethi, calls “the street technique.”
(Your “dream job” is really your dream role combined with your dream company. So, both are important here. Be sure to follow the steps below as best you can.)
The (LinkedIn) “Street Technique”
- Select the industries you’re interested in.
- Search companies on Linkedln by industry. (Go to https://www.linkedin.com/ and type one of the industries you like into the search. Then, select Companies.)
- Combine companies with job roles. (Type in one of the “dream roles” you selected in the “window shopping strategy” into the search along with the industries you are interested in.)
- Dig into their profiles. (Click on the profiles that pop up in your search and dig into them. What other companies have they worked at? What skills do they have? What does their career trajectory look like? What other roles did they have? By looking at their past experience you can find interesting companies that you may never have found on your own.)
- If the company sounds interesting, add the company name and website to your tracking spreadsheet. (Aim for a list of at least five companies.)
Step #4: Find Your “Expert” Decision-Makers
Now that you have your dream companies and dream roles (really your dream jobs) in mind, you can begin looking for the expert “decision-makers” in each company.
Think of the “experts” here as:
Simple Definition: an expert is simply someone who can share valuable information with you about your dream job.
And, the “decision-makers” as:
Simple Definition: a decision-maker is simply someone who is high up enough in your dream company to determine whether or not you’re hired.
Easier than explaining would be to simply give you an example. So, from here, I’ll share with you two case studies of how exactly I connected with expert decision-makers in my dream companies step by step, along with the exact scripts that I used.
How I Did It
At the time, one of my dream companies was Coursera.
As you can probably tell if you’ve been reading around here for a while (or have read my book), I love giving people helpful information that empowers them towards their goals. And, that’s exactly what Coursera does with their mission of providing low-cost higher education to anyone with an internet connection.
So, I typed into Google, “who is the ceo of coursera,” and found that, at the time, it was (and still is at the time of this article’s writing) Jeff Maggioncalda.
Step #5: Connect Over A Convenient Touchpoint
Now comes the part that the majority of people struggle with. The part that makes most people feel like connecting with the high-status is impossible unless you’re already high-status yourself.
This is the part that makes people give up on networking.
When I wanted to connect with Jeff Maggioncalda, he was already the CEO of a multi-billion dollar company (Coursera) with an estimated net worth of over $250 million himself. The common, vague networking advice around the internet of “have a plan” (without sharing how to craft one) and “leverage social media” (without saying how to do so) would’ve left me feeling hopeless.
But, we try to separate ourselves from that over here. So, here’s how I did it.
How I Did It
After identifying the CEO of the company, I pulled his email from the internet, and sent him an email.
Here’s the exact email I sent him:
What do you notice about this email? Why do you think it works?
Here are a few reasons:
- The subject line offered a reason for him to connect. (It’s been blocked out so you don’t get caught up in the exact wording because it can be replaced with anything that you feel would add value to their life. In the “Get More Value To Share” step, you could have started that t-shirt business and say here, “Greetings from a fellow entrepreneur — is a quick chat OK, Jeff?” And, that would highlight common ground as well as potential value to share since you can give whatever your business offers. Or, collaborate with them using the audience you built as an entrepreneur.)
- The email address is authoritative. (If you started that blog in the “Get More Value To Share” step, you could’ve also gotten a custom work email address that looks more official, credible, and trustworthy than a free Gmail address.)
- It shows you did your homework. (You’re not just some guy looking to take their time and any value they have to offer. You followed their work and even offered your own thoughts on it.)
- It shares common ground. (As you mention the ideas you saw in their work [in this case, the YouTube keynote], you also build on those ideas by adding one or two of your own that agrees with the points they made.)
- It shows you’re a high-quality individual and potential job candidate. (In the email, you’re showing that you’re not someone looking for just any job, you’re someone looking to work at a company with values that you agree with.)
- It shows you’re mindful of their time. (By underlining that it would only be 3-5 questions and giving them options as far as how they want to connect with you to answer them.)
- It uses a professional email signature. (A signature that links back to the areas where you have the value to give that we covered. And, you can craft an even more professional email signature than I have for free with some of the new tools out there.)
Then, there are the usual reasons you see in common networking advice literature such as “don’t make your email too long, busy people won’t have time to read it.”
But, what’s important to focus on here is that this email shows you’re someone who has value to give, it puts in the work that most others don’t (which signals a high potential that you’ll gain more value to give in the future), and shows that you understand the social exchange.
You understand how to be respectful of them and their time.
So, two days later, Maggioncalda responded with this:
And, after sending my questions along with a little more email communication, he said:
Now, imagine how it looks when someone in the company gets an email from their boss one morning — who’s also the CEO of the company — instructing them to set up an interview with you.
It’s an order straight from the top. So, they make you a top priority.
And, you get to skip past the hundreds of other applicants still waiting to hear back.
Step #6: Keep In Touch with Value
In that meeting, whether it’s with the CEO themself or someone they’ve referred you to, you have a couple of different options.
- You can decide to begin negotiating for a job opportunity right then and there — by going through the interview process.
- You can seek to build a relationship with the person you’re meeting with that you can maintain until you’re ready for a job — by conversing to discover ways you might be able to add value to their life.
This mainly depends on your goals. If you’re still in college, you may want to go for option two. But, if you’re a recent college graduate who’s looking for a job opportunity to take on right now, option one might be your best bet.
Let’s keep in though, that since this stage is about how to get a mentor, ideally, this is where you’d want to recruit the person you’re meeting with as a mentor (if you think they’d be a fit). And, keep in touch with them by providing them with periodic updates and any value you have to offer.
And, that route would primarily fall under option two.
Career networking is not a study with an abundant amount of quality research. You can type into Google “how to network in college” and, instead of getting networking strategies, come across tons of unhelpful networking “tips.”
And, those at the top are not too keen to share how they got in touch with the high-status elites of the world.
However, as sociologist, Lucio Buffalmano, once said, “Some quantitative research here and some qualitative resources there, and a good picture of what’s effective and what isn’t starts emerging.”
The result of that research has been a large update to the content of this blog.
And here my favorite articles that I have written on the topic:
- Coming Soon
- Coming Soon