By Jacob Lafazio
Networking is a simple concept. Meet new people, put your best foot forward, and build your professional web of contacts for mutually beneficial relationships in the future. For some, the process is as natural as having a conversation and making a good first impression. For others, the extroverted nature of networking can be a bit daunting. But for all professions (and especially for public relations) having a diverse and reliable network of potential contacts is crucial to industry success. You can do it. I can do it. We can do it. Together. Literally together, that’s networking. But you already know that. The entire profession is about RELATING to others.
Networking for PR students is an interesting paradox. You’re always doing it. Much like high school, everything you say and do in college goes onto your permanent social record among your peers. Except now, it’s for real and it starts reflecting on you as a future professional as well. Especially with social media. Even when you think you aren’t networking, you are, and if you still think you aren’t it probably means you are doing it poorly.
“Shut up, Internet Guy,” you say, “you think you’re so smart because you’re old. I already know how to network, and I am ready to do it as soon as I graduate!”
That’s what you would sound like if you were coincidentally saying exactly what I needed you to say in order to segue into my next paragraph.
You’re already networking wrong. And here is how.
1. You are starting too late
Networking starts the moment you step foot on a college campus (physically or virtually). Not after you have your degree in hand. Not during your first internship. It starts during your general courses when the whole school is stuffed into a lecture hall. That was a thing in pre-COVID times.
Everything needs PR. That means you should be networking with the kinesiology students if you are interested in sports. Or keeping track of the theater kids if you want to work in entertainment. Or getting to know the art majors if you want to do PR for struggling artists with little disposable income. Just kidding. I can’t draw and I’m bitter. But waiting until the back half of your college career (or later) is two years too late.
2. You don’t view your instructors as professionals
“That’s not a person, that’s my professor”
-My friend after I gave him $5 for this exact quote, 2021
Teachers play such an important role in our lives. From early childhood, we see them as all-knowing authority figures, molding and shaping us into who we will become. But sometimes we forget to view them as people. That’s why when we see them at the store or find out that they have a first name, we get that “oomf” feeling in our stomachs. We also forget that a lot of them had professional careers before* becoming professional professors professing…prophecy. Okay, “prophecy” is a stretch, but they know their stuff. Get to class ten minutes early sometime. Try to get some one-on-one face time with these field experts. Again, they know their stuff. And what do we do with people who know their stuff? We trap them in our networking web, never to be released.
*and during, but that messed up my word play
3. Your Zoom camera is off
The pandemic has been hard on everyone and students are no exception. Some classes just don’t feel as effective or as engaging online as they do in person. Additionally, the social aspect of the classroom isn’t as strong which makes peer-networking that much harder. But there is a silver lining! Never have I been able to attend class without getting out of bed. And staying in my pajamas. And laying down while listening to lecture. With a White Claw Starbucks. You can’t get that kind of comfort in the schoolhouse.
But only if your camera is off.
If you take advantage of this “perk” class after class, you might be hurting your network. As discussed earlier, your PROfessors are PROfessional contacts. So, if you are sailing through an upper-level course and your professor, classmates, and guest speakers couldn’t pick you out of a lineup (or a job interview), you’re not maximizing your opportunities.
4. You aren’t keeping track of who is killing it in class
“Gosh,” you say, “If I had known Bill Gates in college I would be SET!”
We are the next generation of professionals. We may be learning the basics and following the syllabi right now but give it 1,000 days or so and we are going to be a legion on the PR world. So, who’s doing the best in class right now? Who is ahead of the curve? Who might be the next Bill Gates? Hopefully none of us, I think he dropped out of college, but that’s beside the point. While doing well in school and doing well in the professional world isn’t a 1:1 ratio, following directions and understanding concepts are fairly universal skills that will transcend the classroom and it’s likely that these are good contacts to keep in your professional phonebook.
5. You are letting opportunities to stand out pass you by
You know those awkward moments that seem to happen every class where the professor asks a question and then you all just…stare at each other? Actually, nobody really stares at each other, we all just look off in different directions and avoid eyesight with the instructor and stay really still hoping they won’t see us. Same strategy as a T-Rex. But that’s your time to shine! Flex that vocab! Break out that acronym! There’s a fine line between being an obnoxious know-it-all and rescuing your class (and professors) from that dark, silent void threatening to consume us all. Be a hero. I’m begging you.
Well, except for this last part. There are A LOT of networking tips out there on the World Wide Web, hopefully you found something unique, entertaining, and, most of all, educational in mine. It’s never too late to start networking, but it’s also never too early. So, chop chop! And if you’re interested in networking with me, check out my website, available later in 2021. And if you’re from the future and that’s not there, check for my OnlyFans, that’s the backup plan.
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