I've had some discussions lately about networking and thought I'd share insights for those of you questioning how & why you can start networking while in school.
Myth: You have to have a job/business/biz cards to network.
Fact: The point of networking is to make connections & relationships, not just to tell people about your work. If you're looking for a job networking in different groups (can be in person&online) is a great way to get leads. If you don't have a business or job and you're trying to figure out what you want to do networking can also benefit you as you can meet a range of people and connect with those in your industry of choice to ask questions! Also, if you don't have business cards it's cool, just make sure to get the other person's and then FOLLOW UP! (Template for follow up emails here.)
Myth: People are going to judge you for being a student.
Fact: Most decent humans out there will be happy to give you advice, and will be impressed you're taking the initiative to join professional groups while in school. Age does not determine your capacity to have engaging interactions. Be pleasant, ask questions and don't be shy about saying you're a student and working to figure out what path you may want to take after school.
Myth: Every adult is comfortable networking.
Fact: Almost no one is naturally comfortable or even enthused about traditional networking events! It's hard to go out on a Wednesday night and meet strangers no matter what your age is. It's about making it a habit and committing to attend and getting something out of it. So don't worry about feeling awkward and walking up to a stranger to chat- everyone feels awkward!
Myth: If I am not a professional I will have nothing to talk about.
Fact: Professionals aren't unemotional robots, they have lives and feelings too! Don't feel like you only have to talk business. One of my favorite things to ask to break the ice is "Do you have any travel plans coming up?" This gets people comfortable and excited to talk about their vacation or next trip. Asking some more personal questions like this will give you an easier time when you realize you can just have a conversation.
So yes, start networking in college. It may take a while to find the groups that you enjoy but they're out there! These days there are so many choices for HOW you can interact and create connections, so don't assume it's just guys in suits at happy hour that are able to network. Check out MeetUp.com for endless groups, and search Facebook for online communities of every breed that will support your career interests.
Peace, love & pixels,
P.s. If you want to get event photography experience volunteer to shoot networking events-you get free entry, a chance to mingle & build a portfolio!