Your Classmates are Your First Professional Network

Whenever I speak with a class about networking, I always mention that their classmates sitting all around them are their first real professional network.  Right now you may be sharing notes, forming study groups, and hanging out after class, but in 5 years you will all be firmly established in your new careers.

Don’t Discount Anyone
If you’re on social media like most people these days, you won’t have any problem at all keeping track of your friends and classmates from your first-year German class to your senior year capstone seminar. Anyone, no matter how seemingly unrelated they are to your future profession, could help you in the future.

Some of those people in your language classes may master that language and go on to work in international settings. He may have great advice for you when you want to take your sales career to international markets.

A classmate from your biology class has a job at a pharmaceutical company.   You would like to get a job in that company’s human resources department.  She might be able to answer your questions about the company to help you prepare for the interview.

You are tired of your current job. A woman from your fashion design class works for a company for which you would love to work.  Calling her up and asking for her advice shouldn’t be an issue for her.  You knew and supported each other during the earliest days of learning together. She hopefully knows that you would do the same for her.

It’s not Enough to Connect on LinkedIn
Those were just a few examples of how networks can work for us when we keep in touch with our peers. However, it’s not enough to connect with people on LinkedIn. You must also be kind, considerate, and do your best in the classes you share with them.  And if you honestly struggle in a subject, being upfront about that and asking for help, makes a big impression on people.  Imagine the reference, “He really struggled with conjugating French verbs and asked me for help.  He showed me that he could work hard, pay attention, and learn the subject in front of him.  I know he would learn your program and ask the right questions to master it.” 

Don’t be unnatural or fake — just be yourself. Make friends at school and keep in touch. Take note of people who impress you and what they do that is impressive.  Don’t forget to let them know that they are smart or hardworking or that you liked their presentation.  Chances are they will remember your comments and remember you.  

Your network will continue to grow and change as all your classmates finish up and move out into the world.  Remember the senior who you met early in your freshman year?  Call him and ask if there might be an internship at his company.  Someday, the freshman you met as a senior will do the same.  There is a marvelous give and take in the world of education and learning.  Plug yourself into it now and begin to understand how it works. 

Try this activity:
On Linkedin see how many graduates of your program from the last year you can find.  Try to connect with as many as you can with a note that says, “You don’t know me, but we are both from the same program at IU.”  Or “Remember when we were in the same group together last semester.  I would like to keep in touch.”  Try to remember to keep up with making connections at the end of every class at IU.

By Amy Cornell
Amy Cornell Senior Associate Director, Alumni Engagement Amy Cornell