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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Networking gets a bad rap, but it can be key to your success

College is an amazing opportunity to meet others within your field


By OWEN RUDERMAN — opruderman@ucdavis.edu 


I think when many people think of the word “networking,” especially college students, they think of car salesmen or pompous people in business suits making shady deals. There’s a sort of sneaky, smarmy connotation to the word. The idea I had of networking was people underhandedly selling themselves out to one another, stepping over each other to get ahead. Networking is for corporate shills, not for an honest English major, I thought. Even though networking can get a pretty bad rap, it’s actually vital to your success. And chances are, you’re already doing it without knowing it.

There are a lot of misconceptions about what exactly networking is. Some people seem to think that you need to do something special in order to network. The reality is that networking is simply meeting other people (usually in your field). Most of the time when I’m networking, I just chat with someone, swap stories about our education, jobs and goals and then exchange contact information. At a conference or job fair, I give the recruiter a little elevator pitch about who I am and what my goals are. It’s not some weird, underground deal. It’s just two people who occupy the same sphere of work getting to know one another.

In fact, you’ve probably already “networked,” or gotten to know some of your peers. When you meet a classmate for the first time and chat about majors, goals and classes, you’re networking. When you say, “Hey, want to study some time?” and exchange numbers, you’re networking. When you add that cute guy from your class on LinkedIn, you’re networking. You’re integrating people into your professional web of contacts.

Networking is extremely beneficial. As you’ve probably realized, it pays to know the right people. Imagine this scenario: It’s been three years since you graduated from UC Davis. You got a job and have been accruing some experience, but want to do something you’re more passionate about. You see an ad on LinkedIn for a job that looks perfect, but it’s hard to tell what they’re looking for. You do some research, and it turns out that your friend that you studied with a few times works there! You give them a call and they happily give you some advice about the application and even put in a good word for you. In a week’s time, you’ve got the job. Without the web of people you built during your time in school, who knows if you would’ve gotten hired? While you’re at UC Davis, it’s important to utilize all the people — undergraduates, graduate students and instructors — that the school has to offer you. One of the best things about going to school is the amount of exposure you get to other people in your field.

Here’s the bottom line; people aren’t going to hire you, give you opportunities or even know who you are if you don’t put yourself out there. There’s nothing slimy about letting people know what you’re interested in or what your strengths are. And it turns out that most people are really nice and want to help you. They just need to know who you are and what your deal is first.

The professional world can be scary. Nobody knows what they’re doing and it can be difficult and intimidating to figure out where to start. But it’s so much harder to find opportunities when nobody knows who you are. This is a sign: Embrace networking, build your web of professional contacts and get outside of your comfort zone. When you’ve got your dream job because you talked to some random person at a conference, you’ll be glad you networked.

Written by: Owen Ruderman — opruderman@ucdavis.edu 

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual columnists belong to the columnists alone and do not necessarily indicate the views and opinions held by The California Aggie.



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