Networking—much like graduate school—is an investment in your career. In fact, 85 percent of all jobs are filled through this practice, making it a vital ability for anyone hoping to advance in their field. Luckily, professionals pursuing a graduate degree or certificate are in the perfect environment to hone their networking skills and make new connections that may benefit their career for years to come.
From classmates and professors to alumni and industry professionals, you’ll be surrounded by dozens of like-minded people during your graduate studies. Learn how to broaden your network—whether you’re taking classes on-ground or online—using the seven tips below.
7 Networking Tips for Graduate Students
Networking Tip #1: Get Involved
One benefit of graduate school is the increased opportunity to connect with classmates, professors, and industry professionals. Take every chance you get to build personal relationships with your peers and professors within the classroom, and stay on the lookout for university events you can attend or industry-aligned clubs you can join in your spare time. Doing so will provide you with a chance to connect on a more personal level with the people in your program and likely offer opportunities to expand your network outside of the university as well, since many events and groups bring in guest speakers or thought-leaders as part of their programming.
Don’t limit yourself to only industry-aligned groups, however. Although it can be tempting to focus only on accomplishing your specific career goals, getting involved in other groups, clubs, graduate student governments, etc. can offer you an opportunity to connect with people outside of your immediate network. These types of connections often prove equally as vital as industry-specific ones when it comes to advancing your career down the line.
Networking for Online Students: How to Get Involved
It may seem like getting involved in your university community isn’t as easy when you’re pursuing your degree online, but there are still strategic ways to network in an online program.
For example, if you enroll in an online program at a university that is local to you, there’s no reason you can’t take advantage of on-campus activities. Check out the school’s calendar and student activities page, and sign up for an event or student group that appeals to you. You’re an integral part of the college’s community, so take advantage of all the extracurricular activities it has to offer. These groups are also often more social in nature and can provide a more laid-back way to make connections that will serve you in the future.
If you are not local to the university at which you are pursuing your degree, look for online communities to become a part of. You might try searching social media sites like LinkedIn and Facebook for broad groups that align with your field or area of interest and joining the conversation there. You may also consider starting your own online group that includes a weekly video call or an email exchange with other students in your program in which you discuss industry trends, a topic covered in class, and more. No matter your approach, getting involved—even from an online perspective—can go a long way in building your professional network.
Networking Tip #2: Let Your Region Help Define Your Network
Depending on where your university is located, there may be unique opportunities for you to network with local professionals while in grad school. Take the time to research your area and find local professional organizations or industry-aligned events off-campus that may provide the chance to meet others within your field. This kind of local networking will be especially prudent if you plan on staying in the region you’re studying in post-graduation, as the relationships you build with companies or professionals during school have the potential to turn into employment opportunities post-graduation.
Some students even go so far as to strategically choose their grad school location based on the networking and employment opportunities available to them there. Northeastern, for example, has campuses in Boston, Charlotte, Seattle, Toronto, Vancouver, and the San Francisco Bay Area. Each of these cities is brimming with world-class businesses, nonprofits, and cultural events that students can leverage in expanding their network, yet ceratin locations are more closely aligned with specific industries. If you were in graduate school for science or technology, for instance, you may consider the Seattle campus, as those are two top industries in the area. If you were pursuing a career in financial services and business, on the other hand, you might consider Charlotte.
Another benefit of attending a university with multiple locations is that you have the chance to network across cities. Whether you’re an alum of Northeastern Toronto or Northeastern San Francisco Bay Area, having the university in common is a quick way to make a connection with someone, even on the other side of the continent.
Networking for Online Students: How Your “Region” Plays a Role
In the same way that a common city can connect people, online learners have their own community of virtual classmates with whom they can network.
If you live in the same city as your classmates, there’s no reason not to meet the people in your program outside of the online classroom. Arrange meetings with your professors or other local students whenever possible. It can also be helpful to look for those opportunities to get involved in your area—such as industry events or speakers—and ask a classmate to join you. Not only will you have the chance to get to know that person, but you’ll also both have the opportunity to mingle with others in your field. Any face-to-face interaction you can manage will widen your network and create deeper, more meaningful connections.
If you don’t share a city with any of your classmates or professors, you also have a unique advantage in networking, as it’s likely that they, too, are feeling similar limitations and are just as eager to make a connection. Be proactive and introduce yourself to your classmates online in this scenario, whether as part of a class discussion board or via a networking site like LinkedIn. Exchange some personal, but relevant, information about yourself and your career goals—including your job title, industry, and motivations for pursuing your degree. Then, recommend continuing the conversation via email, on the phone, or even via video to further explore your common interests outside of class. Having a connection like this in your program can make a positive impact on not only your future career but your time pursuing your graduate degree, as well.
Networking Tip #3: Reach Out to Your Professors
Your professors are a valuable resource, not just in terms of the skills and industry expertise they provide, but for the connections they offer. Many professors are also industry experts with links to key thought leaders and organizations. Reach out and get to know them beyond the classroom, either during office hours or through an informal coffee chat.
At universities like Northeastern—which specialize in providing its students with experiential learning opportunities—look to your professors as a representation of the network, and watch them first-hand as they align their students with hands-on learning opportunities in the industry. Witnessing the benefits of successful networking while still in graduate school will hopefully motivate you to continue making strong connections throughout your career.
Networking for Online Students: Reaching Out to Professors
For students in online classes, cultivating relationships with professors is almost more important than it is for those who study on-campus. This is because the time you invest in networking with your professors might be the only chance you will both have to learn about each other’s backgrounds, motivations, and aspirations.
If you don’t feel like you can reach out and make a personal connection with a professor directly, start by actively engaging during class time. Online classes typically have discussion boards for comments and questions regarding assignments. Remain lively in these forums and connect with your teachers—as well as your fellow students—by asking and answering questions regularly. Allow your professor to get to know you by your participation, laying the groundwork for any professional networking relationship you wish to pursue later on.
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Networking Tip #4: Do Your Research
Whether you’re an on-ground or online student, a benefit of graduate school is having a “free pass” of sorts when it comes to networking with industry professionals. Those who may not otherwise consider speaking with if you were their peer or already active in the workforce may be more likely to do so while you’re still in the “learning phase” of your professional career. Take advantage of this fruitful time, and connect with as many people as you can in the most impactful way possible.
One of the best ways to ensure your connections are impactful is to do your research before an event or class to determine who will be there. From students to professors and other professionals, if there’s someone you’re interested in meeting, do your due diligence to learn where they are in their career and the path they took to get there. You may locate this information in online articles or bios if they are a notable enough name; otherwise, you can simply browse their LinkedIn and Twitter profiles to learn more about their background.
Having this information in your back pocket can allow you to strike up a conversation from a place of knowledge. After all, you may only get 30 seconds to interact with this person, and you want to spend that time discussing a very tailored question or topic based on your research, not waste it on something general or mundane.
Networking Tip #5: Be Helpful to Others
We’ve all heard the adage that relationships are as much about giving as they are about taking; the relationships you make with those in your network should be no different. Creating and maintaining effective professional connections takes work. It’s essential that you are proactive in sustaining the relationships you make while in grad school so they don’t dissolve over time.
A fundamental way to do this is to be known as a resource to others. Whether you’re organizing a study group for an upcoming exam or sending a few relevant industry-related articles to a classmate, by sharing your time and knowledge, you’ll establish stronger relationships with those in your program and demonstrate that you value their connection.
Another way to offer help is to become an active member of your own network. Let’s say, for example, you are pursuing a Master of Science in Global Studies and, in your networking efforts, you come across an individual in a top-role at a global healthcare organization. Even if you have no intention of parlaying your degree into a healthcare role, if you know of a classmate who does, it doesn’t hurt to offer to make an introduction on your classmate’s behalf. It’s obviously up to your classmate whether or not they want to capitalize on that introduction, but you have at least shown your effort and thoughtfulness by making the offer.
Being mindful of the career goals of those in your professional network will also allow you to develop stronger relationships, and may even inspire your connections to reciprocate the favor in the future.
Networking Tip #6: Keep Your Online Presence Active & Up-To-Date
So much of networking today is done online which levels the playfield among on-ground and online learners. Just as you would in person, make sure to put your best and most professional foot forward when making virtual connections, as well.
When networking on social media, you want to put the most effort into maintaining your profiles on professional sites like LinkedIn. Make sure your page includes a tasteful photo and cover image, a personal summary, and an overview of your skills. This will give your online connections a better sense of your personality, abilities, and goals, and make those relationships more meaningful.
Learn More: 7 Must-Haves to Improve Your LinkedIn Profile
As much as we’d like to believe that potential employers or industry connections only see the pages we spend time carefully shaping to best reflect our professional selves, the reality is that our entire online presence is easily accessible to those in (and often outside of) our network. For that reason, be mindful of what you post on all your channels. Avoid offensive language or imagery and try to view everything you publish through the eyes of a potential employer. While this may feel restricting to some, it’s important that your online presence remains professional for more reasons than just your network’s sake. Companies today also admit to increased use of social media when screening potential candidates for jobs.
Your social profiles can do more than connect you with those in your network, however. When used strategically, they can also act as a portfolio of your work. Many graphic designers, for instance, use Instagram to display their artwork. Writers, on the other hand, may use a blogging site to maintain a running collection of their pieces. Others still may choose to include a link to their ePortfolio on their LinkedIn page or in their Twitter bio as a representation of their accomplishments. Leveraging these platforms as a tool to share your work will not only give those you connect with in person a chance to explore what you can do further, but may actually initiate new relationships with others who stumble upon your work and want to connect, as well.
Finally, don’t be afraid to engage with your university or program on social media to stay up-to-date on local events, alumni successes, and more. Likely, the most active platform for general university information is Facebook, but all social sites can be used strategically to engage. Follow faculty and industry thought leaders on Twitter to join in on meaningful conversations happening in real-time, for example, or take advantage of pertinent threads on Quora to showcase your expertise and expand your network. These types of online networking strategies can lead to opportunities and notable connections that may have been more difficult to make in person.
Networking Tip #7: Stay in Touch
Once you’ve established new connections, it’s essential that you keep in touch with them. While you may see certain classmates and professors frequently, make sure not to lose contact with those you don’t see as regularly. This will also make it easier for them to help you when you need a favor or remember you when they have something of value to offer.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Networking works best when you are unafraid to ask for support, from advice to mentorship and resources. As long as you can maintain a strong relationship with your network, then asking for guidance should be not only expected, but encouraged.
Are you interested in learning more about the benefits of a graduate degree? Explore additional articles on achieving grad school success, including “7 Career-Focused Reasons to Pursue a Graduate Degree” and “4 Industries Where a Graduate Degree Pays Off.”
This post was originally published in December 2017 and has been updated for relevancy and clarity.
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