College life can sometimes feel like a vacuum.Â You go to class, you go to meetings, and you go out with your friends (with a nap here and there thrown in).
College serves another purpose, however: to prepare you for the real world.Â Your classes, jobs, and experiences should help you find your way to a career you'll enjoy and succeed at.
Networking can be one of the easiest ways to bolster your career success; it allows you to do what you already do on a daily basis — talk with others — and find a focus for it.Â There are four great ways you can network to smooth the transition from campus and into the business community beyond it.
Informational Interviews and Site Visits
Too often, site visits involve group tours with some commentary on how equipment works.Â As visitor, your goal should be to learn how that specific piece of equipment fits into the larger process.Â Research in advance so you have a grasp of the company you're visiting, as well as the marketplace it's operating within.Â These aren't job interviews, but you should seek the same type of knowledge: ask about their supply chain, their inventory control methods, their forecasting methods, their market dynamics, and anything else that interests you about their operations.Â They aren't going to give you trade secrets, but the more information you have about how companies work, the better you'll know what kind of environment you might function best in.
Internships and Consulting Projects
Great résumés are not built in classrooms.Â Young entrepreneurs need to take advantage of internships and external projects in order to explore topics they've only read about.Â Unpaid internships may not look appealing, but some of these opportunities can provide invaluable experience that your peers aren't getting.Â They will give you the résumé-building headlines that will pay off as you build a career after college.Â The internship you select needs to be geared toward your interests.Â If your long-term aspirations involve entrepreneurship, don't settle for being a cashier at a big box store.Â Get involved with suppliers, vendors, store marketing, and customer service.Â You want more than cash register transactions — you want to experience the industry.Â An internship is a golden opportunity to show initiative and growth.
Mentors within your chosen field provide industry-specific insight.Â With an executive mentor, you can learn the ins and outs of the industry he's joining; he can also get personal guidance on career development.Â A mentor can review where you are as an individual, as well as review your goals and how they can best be achieved.Â Better yet, an experienced mentor can help you reframe your goals so they're realistic for who you are as a person and where you want to go as an entrepreneur.
Once you've set goals, your mentor can help keep you on task.Â Your respect for the person you're working with will push you to work toward the completion of your goals.Â Executive mentors have a knack for changing your short-term approach for seeking success into a long-range vision.Â Success isn't a sprint, but a marathon.Â Someone who's been through the ups and downs of a thriving career can show you how to anticipate obstacles and change your mindset about them.Â They'll ask you probing questions, perhaps even questions that you've avoided asking yourself.Â By avoiding the thought-provoking question, you're avoiding the problem…and the solution.
Professors, many times, can introduce you to executive mentors.Â They'll set you up for great internships and utilize their contact list for site visits.Â However, professors won't share these contacts with just anyone.Â By facilitating an experience for you, they know that their endorsement is implied.Â Their reputation is on the line when they use their contacts to help you.Â Remember that these people have professional lives beyond the college campus — they need to maintain their professional integrity in all aspects of their lives.
To overcome any doubt, you'll need to give them a reason to believe in you.Â You must develop a relationship with key professors outside the classroom.Â They need to understand your goals, as well as how they might best be able to help you.Â If you frequently interact with a professor, he will remember you when he's talking with professional acquaintances about opportunities and projects available for college students.Â Your professors aren't merely communicators of classroom material — they're professionals and people.Â Get to know them as all three, and you'll have a strong pipeline for networking.
As a college student, you may be limited in the amount of exposure you have to external networks.Â Your campus community can be a rich resource to communicate beyond the walls of your institution.Â Networking and internship experiences are key components to developing your credibility as an entrepreneur.Â Develop your networking strategy from school, and you'll have a great résumé to show for it when you join the real world.