One of the most perplexing facets of working in the professional world -for me, anyway – is figuring out how to network, especially while you’re still in school. I come from a small town where everyone knows everyone else, which makes networking pretty much unnecessary.
But when I moved to Washington DC and decided that libraries should be my career, I felt a little stuck. How do you network with professionals in your area while you’re still in school? I say, make being a student work for you.
Here are three suggestions for ways to network as a student:
- Use a school project as an excuse to make new contacts. Recently, I completed a group project at the National Postal Museum, one of the many Smithsonians. Not only was it an amazing museum, but I met some very friendly staff who very willingly gave me their contact info and said to get in touch anytime. Don’t underestimate your status as a student – doors of opportunity may open for us simply because we are still in the process of learning our trade.
- Attend a conference! It’s intimidating, as Jennifer mentioned about a month ago, but there’s really no better way to start networking. I’m personally hoping to attend the Computers in Libraries conference next March, since my interests lie in systems, information architecture and user interface design. Not only is it a great way to learn about what’s happening in the field, you get to meet and greet with others as like-minded as yourself. A piece of advice: bring some business cards. It doesn’t matter if you are employed where you want to be yet, just make sure they have your name, contact information and expected graduation date on them. The people you meet may reach out if they have employment opportunities in your area of study.
- Complete a practicum or internship in an institution that interests you. If your program has the option of a practicum or internship, definitely take it. It’s a great way to get real-life job experience in your field of interest, and can sometimes even lead to a job. For myself, I am hoping to set up a practicum at the National Agricultural Library, helping them create web pages and supporting their information architecture. To my surprise, I found that a staff member from the NAL is going to be presenting at CIL! Coincidence? Or a great excuse for me to talk to someone working at a potential practicum site, and fantastic networking opportunity to boot?
If you are in a distance program, it might be even harder to network. If you can, use the contacts at your school – professors, practicum coordinators, and the like – to write you a letter of introduction that you can present to institutions in your area. Thankfully, we work in the library field, where the attitude tends to be very giving and helpful, especially to students. Don’t be afraid to work it!
And don’t forget about advice from fellow hackers Brenna, who discussed how to make the most of your grad school job, or Kathi, who talked about how to ace that informational interview. And don’t underestimate Joanna’s advice about using social media as a networking tool.