Networking Your Way to Success

Networking Your Way to Success 
By: Cody Lee 
Most people have heard the phrase, "It is not what you know, it is who you know." What does that mean? It is often used in a negative sense by disappointed job seekers who feel slighted in favor of more familiar candidates. Ask any business major about networking, and you will learn that it is an everyday fact of life. Aside from education, one of the most important aspects of college is networking. Make friends and business contacts and leave them with a good impression. It is a concept that sounds simple, but many never make the effort and even fewer really realize the worth of it. 

One of the biggest mistakes undergraduates make is not taking advantage of a professor's office hours. Being a graduate assistant and working in the same office as many of my professors, I can tell you that most would welcome a visit from a student. Your instructors have those hours set aside specifically for students to engage them before or after class. If you have any questions about the material, these hours are the perfect time to sit down one-on-one with your teacher until your questions or issues are perfectly clear. Even if the class is easy to you, it is often a good idea to drop by and introduce yourself. Remember, college is not high school. Your professors are experts in their field. They know more about the material than most professionals and are an invaluable resource. They may be able to introduce you to leaders in your career field, which can lead to a job down the road. At the least, your professors can help you to understand the material more clearly, a very important aspect to passing any class. 

Another often overlooked source of networking contacts is an internship. Many students are reluctant to take on internships unless they are required. This is very understandable since most internship posistions are unpaid. My advice is this: if you can afford to take on the additional work, an internship is the single best way to acquire contacts and a job in your field. It may seem to be unpaid, but the dividends you gain are beyond the value of monetary payment for the hours spent. One great idea for the start of your freshman year is to find a place you can see yourself working at one day. During the summer volunteer, there are very few business owners who will turn down free labor. If you do not enjoy the work, you will know early on that it is not for you. If you do enjoy it, keep interning every opportunity that exist. You will meet everyone that works there, you will learn the culture and operations of the organization, and you will have the opportunity to prove yourself a competent worker. Even if the particular business can not offer you a job after you graduate, they may know someone else in your field that can and will, and you will have experience through the company. 

What is the easiest way to network while in college? Simply, get out and meet people. Less than 30% of people in the United States have a bachelor's degree, and that number seems to be on a continued decrease. You can use this advantage as a tool; a way to open doors and make things happen. You and your classmates are the future elite of the country. By networking with your peers, you will experience different ideas, cultures, thought processes, and fields of study. The next great business mogul, politician, scientist, or innovator might be in your class, so make the effort to meet them. Fraternities and sororities are another excellent way to make friends. For non-Greeks, get involved in a campus organization or go to campus events. Make an effort to meet the people in your dorm and discover what thier goals and interests are. College is not the place to be a loner, so branch out and see what the world has to offer. Open your mind and be willing to see things in a different way, and recognize that differences can be beautiful. 

I met my best friend while I was a student at Jacksonville State University, but I also met lots of other people who can potentially help me with my career. Put yourself out there, be friendly and outgoing, get to know different types of people, and you just may be surprised at the people you meet, and the places they can help you get. 

Cody Lee is a recent graduate of Jacksonville State University. He has a master's degree in public administration, and loves to meet new people from diverse backgrounds and cultures. An aspiring writer, this is his first published editorial for Alabama College and Career Guide.