Why Online Networking is Important for Students
You may think that building your professional network is something to consider at the end of your studies, or even after you have graduated. With the growth in online and blended learning, it may seem like networking is harder than ever. We disagree.
Making social and professional contacts during your course of study can make you feel more invested in and connected with your learning and future goals. The connections you make with them now will lay the foundations for important future relationships in the corporate world.
Choosing to undertake an online programme of study is not a barrier to networking, either. Just as opting to study online open up the variety of degree courses on offer to you, so does the virtual world increase your opportunity to make personal and professional connections.
So, how can you get started with building your professional network online?
Make a Good First Impression Online
In a globalised world, we are no longer limited to the connections we make in-person. While face-to-face contact is still highly valued, networking online is an equally effective way to tap into professional opportunities and enhance your personal brand.
Your personal brand – that is, the presence you have online and what it says about you – is a good place to start if you’re looking to build your network. As the saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression, so make sure your digital first impression is a positive one. Review your privacy settings across any social media accounts you have. Make sure your LinkedIn profile is up to date with your work and education history. Update your profile photos with a clear and professional-looking headshot. Google yourself and look at what comes up. Is it a positive reflection of your current and future professional self?
That’s not to say that your online presence has to be formal or lacking in personality. In fact, a study in 2018 found that 31% of employers said they hired a candidate because their online presence showed them to be well-rounded with a wide range of interests. 34% said an online profile that demonstrated the candidate’s creativity was also a reason for hiring them. Professional doesn’t have to mean impersonal, after all.
Build Your Network During Class Time
As a graduate student, you will work with many like-minded students, teaching staff and other university partners. The people in your university community are likely to have skills and experiences that align with your interests and ambitions. The time you spend with them in your online classes is a great opportunity to start building relationships and establishing yourself as an engaged and active student.
When you log in to every online class, be prepared; do your reading, take notes and think of questions that you’d like to ask ahead of time. Make full use of any comments or online chat section and share any insights or opinions you have on the topics covered. Turn on your camera during video calls so that people can put a face to a name and enhance the feeling of an ‘in-person’ connection. Continue to engage once the class has ended, too. Why not start a follow-up thread in a class Facebook group, for example? Establishing yourself as a proactive and engaged classmate will make you stick in people’s minds and make it more likely for them to contact you in future.
Networking with Industry Contacts Online
It’s not enough to connect with professionals on LinkedIn and leave it at that. As with actively participating in class, making industry connections online also requires effort and consistency. One of the easiest ways to start is to make sure you are following key people and organisations on social media and engaging with them in an authentic way. For example, perhaps a recent article features an interview with CEO of a company you admire? When you share that article online, say why you found their contribution insightful or inspiring and tag them.
As well as connecting with established business leaders, search for recent alumni of your course and see where they work. Reach out to them, highlighting your common connection and ask if they would have a video call with you. This person could be the link to a more senior figure within the organisation or could offer you advice and information.
Once you start, you will see that the opportunities to make online connections while you are still studying are unlimited. Attend an online industry event and get in touch with a speaker whose talk you enjoyed. Are you working on a project and found there’s a gap in your knowledge? Contact the marketing executive you’ve been interacting with on Twitter and ask if you would be able to arrange an interview with them. Follow up with the recent graduate you spoke with over Zoom and find out if their company is offering internships or mentoring opportunities. The key is to be clear about what you are asking for and, crucially, what you can offer them or their organisation.
Keep It Social
Networking online doesn’t always need to have an explicitly professional focus. In fact, making personal connections during your online study is just as important as building professional ones.
As well as connecting on LinkedIn, get to know your classmates by following them on social media. You may find you have similar hobbies or have visited the same countries. You might even have friends in common! If there are a number of you with a shared interest, why not set up a WhatsApp chat or Facebook group dedicated to it?
While it’s difficult to meet up in person in 2020, that shouldn’t stop you from organising social gatherings online. You can host Friday night drinks, set up a regular coffee date or even organise a relaxed study session, all from the comfort of your own home. Talking face to face, even over video call, is important so don’t discount the impact of connecting in real time. Establishing regular meet-ups online will give you touchpoints throughout the week. They will remind you to look up from your studies and connect with others.
Set Yourself Up for Success
Remember that building an effective professional network is a long game. The opportunities to be found within your network may not present themselves until months or even years down the line. That is why it’s crucial to start thinking about how to create those key connections now. Luckily, having the skills to network online makes this easier.
At UBIS, we pride ourselves on offering unique opportunities to work with international business organisations and prepare you for the next stage of your globalised career. Learning how to network online will enhance the opportunities available to you when your graduate. So start building that network of future colleagues, mentors and employers now and set yourself up for future success.