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In the professional world, who you know is important. Having people who can give you advice, vouch for your skills, or introduce you to hiring managers and company leaders can give you a leg up against the competition. That’s why you hear so much about networking. Having a strong network can make it easier to find and pursue opportunities to advance your career.

For example, networking could be the key to landing an interview at the company where you’ve always wanted to work. It could help you discover a job opening before others know it exists. It could connect you with a mentor who provides resources and guidance on navigating the day-to-day challenges of the professional environment.

When it comes to building your network, there are many ways to get started, and below we cover 10 tips to help you meet and connect with new people. As you work your way through these tips, know that networking is about establishing and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships. Thinking of networking as relationship building (something you’ve already done your entire life!) can help to reduce any anxiety you face!

1. Update your LinkedIn profile

A strong LinkedIn profile helps people find you online and understand what you do. Include a good headshot along with a headline that highlights your current role and/or your career goals. Then, use the summary section to share more about your professional strengths and aspirations. Fill in the Experience (including accomplishments at each job) and Education sections at minimum, but the other sections are also great places to showcase your skills, interests, accomplishments, published work and more!

2. Ask people you already know for help

Once your LinkedIn profile is ready, connect with current and former instructors, classmates, work colleagues, family, and friends. Don’t be shy about connecting with people you know and requesting their help with growing your network! While your instinct might be to connect online only with people in your field, it’s impossible to predict which person could introduce you to an important connection.

3. Start with a small goal

“Building a professional network can be intimidating. Start with a small goal, like 3 new connections, and work from there as you get more comfortable with these interactions,” advises Amanda Schneck, South University’s Director of Career Services - Virginia Region. “It is less about the quantity of connections and more about the quality. You want these to be individuals who know you well, can speak positively about both your soft skills and professional abilities, and are willing to help you in your professional career.”

4. Tell people what you want or need

Let your friends and family know what you’re studying in school and your desired career path. When those around you (online and in-person) know your goals, they’re better able to introduce you to people who might be able to help. If you think a particular person might be able to assist you, reach out and ask. When you want something specific, always be clear. Many people will want to help, but they will need direction.

5. Volunteer

Volunteering is a great way to give back and support your community. At the same time, you can get to know other people in your area and maybe gain relevant industry or leadership experience. With a little searching, you might even find volunteer organizations related to your career path, where you can meet people with similar interests and aspirations.

6. Join a new group, organization or event

MeetUps, student groups, community or church groups, professional seminars and conferences are all great ways to meet new people, even if most events are still virtual. For any event, be prepared to explain what you do now and what you’re working toward in the future. This should only take a few sentences, so plan in advance what you want to say. Be sure to listen to the other person as well. Building relationships means having conversations, not just promoting yourself. After the event, connect on LinkedIn with the people you met and find ways to keep the conversation going.

7. Be active online

“Never underestimate the power of the internet. Utilize LinkedIn to build a network of professional connections from the comfort of your couch,” advises Career Services Director Schneck. “Look for major player companies in your industry to follow, and read and share relevant articles in your field to build a natural and professional following.” You can also join industry groups on LinkedIn to ask for advice and get to know others with similar interests!

8. Get to know fellow classmates

Start talking with more people in your South University classes (and connect with them on LinkedIn if you didn’t already). If they’re in your program, they’ll share some of your interests, and you can ask about their career aspirations and past professional experiences. For now, you might wind up with a study buddy and motivational partner. In the future, this new connection could prove helpful for one or both of your careers.

9. Reach out to alumni

Beyond South University students, you can also find and connect with alumni via the South University LinkedIn page. When you send a request to an alum you don’t know, include a couple sentences introducing yourself and explaining that you’re looking to connect with other members of the South University family. When you’re ready, follow up at a later date to start a conversation and discuss any shared interests or how you could support each other in your career goals. Alumni can also connect and stay current on South University news via our Alumni Connections site.

10. Keep in touch

Having an extended network means nothing if you don’t keep in touch with them. “Check in, see what members of your network are working on, and update them on what you are doing!” advises Schneck. “If you need them to be looking for positions for you, or want them to be a reference, they need to know what you are looking for and what you’ve been doing professionally. And be sure to offer them your assistance with the same thing. Networking is about giving just as much as it is receiving!”

Want to know more about how South University can help you prepare for your next career move? Contact us to learn about how our degree programs are designed to help you with your career goals, and how our Career Services team and other dedicated team members can support you along the way.