Does it feel awkward? Yes! That’s why you have to do it now when the stakes are low. In most cases, the people you are networking with now won’t even realize that you are actively “practicing your networking.”
If you get going with this now, it won’t seem awkward at all in a few years when networking is vital to your career. Because of all your subtle practice now, you’ll be a natural–and that will put you ahead of everyone else who will just be getting started with the whole networking thing.
Here are three ways to squeeze in a little practice without anyone else even knowing what you’re up to:
1- if a friend recommended a course you are taking, introduce yourself to the professor after class sometime in the first week. It will take 20 seconds or less to say:
Hi, I’m Fred. My friend Jodie took this course with you last fall and really enjoyed it. I’m looking forward to being in the class this semester.
It’s a win-win-win. That gets a good word in for your friend (who may need a letter of recommendation someday), gets your name and face in front of the professor during the first week of the semester, and helps the professor over the learning curve on getting to know students by connecting a new student to a memorable former student.
2- meet new people in your classes. On the first day, look for people you already know and take a few minutes to catch up (“how was your summer?” “what did you do?”). But on the subsequent class days, introduce yourself to one or two classmates who you don’t already know. Ask how they found out about the course, if they have to take it as a requirement, if anyone has told them anything about the course. Be sure to exchange names.
That might be the extent of your networking in each class. It would get weird and obvious if you moved around asking those same two or three questions to a different person every single day. And you don’t want to exchange life stories with anyone–it’s just a friendly conversation with someone with whom you have one small thing in common (the course!) But once in a while you will find that you have something else in common that is key to your social or pre-professional network.
3- pencil in some office hours. Not so many years ago, this was the only way to communicate with professors outside of class. It is time that professors are committed to being in their offices (no appointment needed–in most cases). And those hours are for meeting with students; otherwise, most professors can go work somewhere else.
This is your chance to work on some body language aspects of networking:
- eye contact,
- introducing yourself with first name, last name, and what course you are in,
- offering your hand to shake,
- keeping electronic devices completely silent and out of sight,
- smile naturally,
- don’t cross your arms, AND
- don’t wiggle any body part nervously.
All of this is just stuff you are practicing–the professor doesn’t have any idea what you’re up to so it can’t “hurt your grade” (generally, going to office hours can only help in that department).
You can mess up any and all of the above things on your first try–the important thing now is that you are getting tons of practice before all the job interviews where it really does matter!
BUT you do have to have a real purpose for visiting office hours so make sure to go when you:
- are ready to get a project idea approved,
- want to run what you’ve already done for a course project by the professor to make sure you’re on the right track
- have a good follow-up question from class (make sure it’s not something you just missed in the reading or lecture, but it can be a clarification of difficult content or a distinction between two similar concepts) OR
- need clarification on a homework assignment (be sure to keep it mostly about things related to subject matter–not just word counts, fonts, margins).
Take control of your own professional development while you’re just going about your day and you’ll be ready for whatever comes after graduation!
Darcy Lear is a career coach specializing in training students to highlight their language studies so they standout in the job search and workplace. For one-on-one coaching or to set up a workshop, contact Darcy: email@example.com