7 Networking Skills Designed to Help Students Flourish at Events

Friday, December 01, 2023
Nshss Scholars Day 2018 Washington Dc Coastal Click Photography 8223

The term "networking" can feel scary to many people, especially if it's the first time you've had to reach out to others professionally. But in reality, networking is simply having purposeful conversations - something you do every day! 

As you continue your academic and professional journey, you will undoubtedly encounter situations in which networking is a must. Connecting with fellow students, educators, and professionals will help you gain access to opportunities and form relationships that could last a lifetime. You never know who you might meet that will become your business partner or employer one day!

Networking is an important skill- forging connections is an integral part of life, both professionally and personally- and there are some simple tips you can keep in mind that will help you become a better networker in no time. 

Here are seven tips on improving networking skills that you can start using today! 

1. Do your homework ahead of time

Before any networking event, you will be better prepared if you do your homework rather than schoolwork. Research everything you can about the event, especially who will attend. This can help you identify some people you want to speak with and learn about their backgrounds and how you can connect. 

Also, look into schedules to maximize your time at the event. Consider what questions you may ask during the event and what value you will bring to the community.

For example, if you’re attending an event for a nonprofit organization, research the nonprofit's mission and goals. Understand how your skills might align with that mission, or think about what more you want to know about the nonprofit so you can ask thoughtful questions. Then, look at who else will attend and can answer those questions for you.

Networking opportunities may be infrequent, so you want to maximize your chances. 

2. Present yourself purposefully

Though you should always bring your authentic self to an event, when you’re in the presence of professionals and want to network, you should also know your audience.

If the event is more casual and geared toward other students, you can dress down more, such as jeans and a dress shirt instead of a suit and tie. However, if the event is meant for networking with professionals or potential employers, be ready to dress professionally and present yourself in a more formal, business-like way.

Make eye contact with people you meet. Shake hands and introduce your name. If you have a name tag, sometimes pointing to it helps people remember your name. It can also be helpful to bring a business card or resume so your connections can reach you after the event.

At the same time, recognize that you are networking with fellow human beings, so you don’t have to be stiff to be professional. Take time to find out if you have shared interests with the people you meet. Get interested in their lives, and they, in turn, will be interested in you.

3. Know your pitch

Before you attend any event, you should be ready to market yourself to the people you meet in a way that feels natural for you. Think about the skills you offer and the interests you have. Know what you want to get out of the event. Are you looking for a job or a mentorship? Or you may like to connect with someone in your prospective career and learn more about their day-to-day life.

If you’re attending a career fair or know you’ll meet potential future employers, for example, know what value you’d bring to their company or organization. Have a list of skills in mind that qualify you for a position. Remember, you’ve already researched and know who is attending, so you can be prepared to make a great impression.

You might not know your overall mission, especially as a young person, but you should know what roles you’re interested in as you progress in your schooling and career. Know the topics you are passionate about, and be ready to share those with people you meet at events.

4. Ask more questions than you answer

In the book How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie advises readers to ask others questions because people love to talk about themselves and will inevitably like you more if you ask them more questions about them than you talk about yourself.

You learn so much from people you meet--especially if they are seasoned professionals. The more you know about the people you meet at events, the more connections you can make to leave a lasting impression and create long-term academic and professional relationships.

That said, be sure your questions are professional and relevant. You don't want to seem like you're interviewing the other attendees, so keep questions concise and make sure they flow naturally in the conversation.

5. Utilize and maintain your online persona

Today's world is very web-focused, and people will likely exchange online handles and usernames at networking events to stay in touch. You’ve undoubtedly heard parents and teachers tell you to watch what you post on social media for your privacy and safety, and the same is true for the sake of networking.

Look at your online profiles and ensure that the people who can access them will see a version of you that you want to present to the world, especially in a business setting. Though you don’t necessarily have to hide your personality, you should be sure that your online presence represents you properly and would not deter someone from wanting to connect with or hire you.

On a positive note, you can also use your online profiles to help people better understand and recognize your passions and talents. If you’ve started your own business, make sure that’s clear on social media! If you love to volunteer, make sure that’s present as well. This will help people recognize your strengths and how they can work with you in the future.

6. Follow up

This tip might seem obvious, but it is crucial. If you connect with someone at a networking event, follow up!

When you get home from the event, write down the names of the people you met and keep their business cards safe. You can even keep a spreadsheet of people you meet at events, their contact information, and some notes regarding what you talked about, where you met, and what they do at their company. This will jog your memory if you ever want to contact them.

Send each person you connected with a “thank you” email or message the day after the event. If they’ve asked you to send a resume, make sure you follow up promptly. Following up will keep you in the minds of the people you meet and give you more contacts for future projects and opportunities.

7. Practice, practice, practice

As with most skills, practicing is the best way to get better at networking! NSHSS has plenty of events that will help you work on your networking skills and utilize those skills to make connections with professors, fellow students, and even future employers.

You can even practice at home. Ask your loved ones to help you perfect your handshake or to listen to your "elevator pitch" about yourself. Then, when you get to the event, you'll feel confident in what to do and say! 

Once you feel prepared, check out some networking activities for students in your area, whether through your high school or college or a career fair held at a community center. Any networking event will allow you to work on your skills and connect with people purposefully and professionally.

And most importantly, be sure that you have fun at these events and revel in the opportunity to network!