College is a great time to network with others. Your fellow students? They’ll end up working in various roles across industries, both domestically and internationally. Your school’s alumni? They’re already in those roles and may be more willing to connect with you than a “random” stranger, simply because you’re at their former school. Your professors? Build a connection with them and they might connect you with their network too. It’s not rocket science; if you haven’t already, it’s time to start networking in college.
Of course, networking in college can be easier said than done. While you have conversations with people almost everywhere in school—in the cafeteria, in the back of class, at a football game—not every conversation leads to a connection. Sometimes it doesn’t need to, and you might not want it to either. But whenever you do want a conversation to turn into a connection, there’s a simple way to do so.
Want to build your network? Ask what people need
When networking in college, or anywhere else for that matter, you should put the other person first. More specifically, you should seek to provide value.
Imagine the person you want to connect with is running a business. As the employer, they’re not going to allow people who don’t add value to the company to stick around. In fact, they won’t hire them in the first place—they’ll only hire those they strongly believe can provide the value they need. After all, why pay the salary of someone who doesn’t add value?
Newsflash: That person you want to connect with is running a business. The business of them. And if they don’t think you’ll ever add value to their business, time with you can be perceived as an unnecessary waste.
So, how do you add value? By meeting a need. How do you identify what they need? By being bold and asking them.
Once you know these needs, you might realize you can meet them immediately, either on your own or through connecting the person with someone else you know. Alternatively, you might realize you can’t meet their needs. Yet. That’s okay too. From that first conversation on, simply keep an eye out for potential solutions to their needs and follow up with them whenever you find one. This simple action, just like asking what the person needs in the first place, is enough to showcase how you’re someone who may provide value. How you’re someone they should stay connected with.
Networking in college doesn’t have to be complicated. You just have to be purposeful. Demonstrate you value people’s time by seeking to add value to their lives. Then, trust that they’ll seek to return the favor. People are often a lot more willing to help than we realize.