There's no doubt that networking has huge benefits, but networking shouldn't be limited to professionals or even “adults.” Some of the most valuable connections you can make are with people your own age—after all, some day we will be the ones in charge! Whether they can put you in touch with the internship coordinator at your favorite company or help you find a place to live in a new city, there are plenty of benefits to networking with peers. Here are some creative ways to network with people our own age.
Join a professional club
A campus organization that focuses on your career is a great way to network with your peers who share your major or area of study. There are likely plenty of options on your campus, from professional fraternities to competitive clubs like Mock Trial.
Alexa Harrison, a recent grad of UMass Amherst, was the president of a networking club on campus called Ed2010. "Ed2010 is a community of people who are interested in working in the publishing industry, specifically the magazine publishing industry," she said. "One of the main purposes of Ed2010 is networking, both with peers and with industry professionals."
Alexa’s chapter housed workshops and "happy hours" where journalism students would swap magazines and network. These types of clubs and events make it easy for you to meet others who are pursuing the same career as you and can help you create lasting relationships with your peers.
Add People You Know on LinkedIn
It can never hurt to have too many connections on LinkedIn! "You can use LinkedIn as a tool to learn about each other and stay in touch," says Andrea Nierenberg, the author of Networking for College Students and Recent Graduates. So add everyone you know—high school friends, college classmates, fellow interns, sorority sisters, etc. Connecting with someone on LinkedIn is much more professional than Facebook, and it shows the person that you're willing to maintain a professional relationship.
Rather than blindly searching your friends' names, make your job easier by joining groups that you're interested in or that your peers may be involved with. For example, join the group for your university, your college, or your sorority.
Another great place to look: After you click "Connect" on anyone's profile, LinkedIn sends you to a "People You May Know" page. Take a minute to scroll through--you might be surprised how many people you'll find that you know! Finally, look through a classmate or coworker's connections to see whom you know and can connect with.
Reach Out Online
You don't necessarily have to limit your networking to people you know. In this high-tech era, it's easy to network with strangers online. Of course, you don't want to network with just anyone!
First, you may want to reach out to recent graduates from your school whom you never got a chance to meet. They'll likely be happy to chat with a student from their alma mater. Try connecting on Facebook or LinkedIn, or just send them an email. Play the college student card and say you're trying to learn as much as possible. Especially if you've never met before, be sure to ask a few specific questions so they have something to say in reply.
If you're searching for an internship or job, try reaching out to other college students or recent graduates who held the position in the past. They might be able to give you great advice on what to expect from your upcoming internship.
Alayna Burton from Stetson did just that. "A company I wanted to intern at for the summer was a company one of the alumni from my school interned at," Alayna says. "Even though I didn't know her all that well, I went out of my way to email her and ask her for a name of anyone she knew to see if they were looking for interns. She totally helped me out and I got the internship! Point blank: don't be afraid to ask for help!"
Go to Collegiate Conferences
While networking with people at your school has benefits, meeting people from around the country can be even more helpful. Attending a national or regional professional conference can give you the opportunity to connect with students from other colleges.
As part of Drake University's Student Alumni Association's executive board, Dan Pfeifle had the opportunity to attend a national leadership convention hosted by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. While he was there, he networked with plenty of students from other college, but kept it casual. "Remember that, while they are being professional, everyone there is a college student, so you can connect on other levels besides what you are at the conference for," he says.
To get to know new people at the conference, try going to workshops or sessions on your own—not with other students from your own college. It'll force you to talk to new people. Or, try connecting with people on Twitter. If the convention is using a hashtag for the event, see who else is tweeting the hashtag. Then tweet them asking if they want to meet up!
Keep in Touch with Upperclassmen
If you got involved in extracurricular activities right after starting college, you have probably met a few upperclassmen who share some of your interests. "I keep in touch with upperclassmen that I see are driven and career oriented--those interested in progressing and not just landing a job," Kenyatta Giddings from UT Austin says.
If you really admire someone and if they're doing great things, Nierenberg suggests creating a Google alert for their name. "Google Alerts acts as your own news aggregator, and when you see something they are doing, it’s a great time to reach out and touch base." You can shoot them an email or a Facebook message saying you saw an article about them, for example, to start a conversation. "Never bombard people," Nierenberg warns. "Stay in touch, simply and consistently, to add value to the other person."
When talking to recent graduates, remember not to make it all about you. Even if you're seeking their help in finding a job or internship, it should be a two-way street. Nierenberg suggests giving something--like a piece of advice, a suggestion, or any opportunities you know of--and taking something away, like a referral or introduction.
Of course, these aren't the only strategies for networking with your peers—even just meeting new people on campus can count as networking! "You can find networking opportunities everywhere in life," Nierenberg says. "Take classes in your areas of interest, go to events and lectures, and be open to meeting people. Keep building relationships and friendships." But with these extra strategies, you'll be a networking queen in no time!