How to build your professional network

Daniella Ponticelli is a freelance writer and broadcast journalist in Winnipeg, Canada. She has been hired as staff at several Canadian media outlets following successful college internships. Daniella also consults with students on preparing submissions for job applications.

Next time you’re in class, have a look around. Your future boss could be the one nodding off in the seat beside you.

I’ve been thinking about this idea a lot recently, after signing on to work for a former classmate who just started her own publishing company. While frantically working on a tight deadline, we started talking about college and how it came to be that we were now launching a magazine together. In college we were friendly, but not best friends. We would discuss the specs of an assignment over Facebook, sporadically work on a few projects together; but none that were as involved as our new endeavor.

For the most part our relationship was an exchange of greetings in the hallways, over the course of a few years. Sometimes these small gestures of good faith – pleasantries we would certainly extend to our employer– fall through the cracks. College life can feel like its own existence sometimes, separate from the real world of jobs and networking.

But changing this perception is what led to many of the opportunities I received after graduation.
In my third year, our professors suggested we call one another colleagues, not classmates. This simple language choice allows for situations to be seen through a lens of professionalism. A class presentation was now an opportunity to showcase how you handle addressing a crowd of equals.
After all, it’s not only your future employer reading through the textbook beside you, but prospective staff at all levels.

This doesn’t mean being a consummate professional every waking hour, or skipping a party in case you go too hard. Students, and professionals, are human too. But it does mean finding the right opportunities to project those qualities you can’t show in a resume. Things like respect, time management and work ethic.

Consider the next time you’re working on a project with your colleagues. Show your ability to adapt and handle change, your openness to feedback and just how well you handle leadership and responsibility.
Think where this could lead: a future boss remembering how well you coped with the group’s last-minute changes – or how you were stuck in our ways, unwilling to compromise.

Don’t be scared off if your first attempts are a little rough. College is a safe place to iron this out, and decipher what work needs to be done on the skills that can’t be taught. When it comes to career longevity, self-awareness if key; if there are interpersonal skills you need work on, don’t ignore it. Sometimes this can fly under the radar at an interview, but future references and your new coworkers won’t stand for it. These growing pains will smooth the way for you to become a more likeable applicant and help when networking with strangers.

Another way to make more effective use of the budding professionals around you is building up a fresh network. Just as it’s important to keep an updated portfolio of college work samples and a fresh resume – but really, who actually does that? – do find a way to start building a list of contacts to help in your first industry position.

If you’re interning, what better way to show initiative on a project than to have a network of people on hand to reach out for information.

This means taking time to mingle with students in other faculties. So often we neglect the amazing opportunity we have in college to build important connections with fields that interact together in the real world. For example, I made connections with theatre students which turned out to be very useful as a new writer assigned to artist profiles.

It’s important to remember building a network is a process. Interact with others in your field of study and branch out to those who could potentially be future work partners. Think of it as building strong bridges for down the road.

As a former college instructor of mine used to say, “be careful how you treat people on the way up, because you may see them again on the way down.”

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