Learn to Network

Networking is a lifelong skill

There's a reason alumni, graduating seniors, and our staff encourage you to network... it's because networking is the most important source for learning about opportunities to advance your career.  

Networking is not about asking for a job or a favor... networking is about learning from others.  When you learn from others...

  • You gain insight into what employers (and particularly, recruiters) are looking for in candidates
  • You learn about opportunities you never knew existed
  • People want to help you get connected to other professionals in their network

Approach networking as a two-way relationship

One of the biggest mistakes college students (and professionals!) make is to think about networking as a way to get something from that first conversation -- a job, a referral, an introduction, etc. Networking requires reciprocity.

Put yourself in the shoes of a professional. They are really busy, get lots of emails, and likely receive lots of requests to network.  They receive emails from people they don't know asking for help getting a job.  Would you put your reputation on the line for someone you don't know? Of course not. 

To illustrate the importance of cultivating a two-way relationship, check out these two resources:

  • Stanford University's Life Design Lab provides a creative, two-minute video that reframes networking and draws a parallel to asking for directions.
  • Austin Belsac, an expert networker, provides helpful guidance on "making it about them" (scroll down through this page), including ideas for how you can add value to a relationship, such as:
    • Recognizing someone for something they've done (a transition they made, an article they wrote)
    • Sharing the success you've seen from taking their advice
    • Identifying common ground or values (this is why alumni connections work so well)

Reciprocity is the foundation of a meaningful and genuine relationship. As you start thinking about how to build a reciprocal relationship, keep in mind 


Networking can happen anytime, anywhere

When you think of where to network, the first thing that comes to mind is probably a professional conference or social reception.  While you may find yourself at one of these gatherings, the reality is that every interaction you have with someone is considered networking. You never know who knows someone who can open the door to your future. As Maya Angelou once said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

You may not recognize it right now, but as a college student, you are provided more opportunities now than the rest of your life to network:

  • Career fairs and other networking events
  • Employer information sessions (particularly if you hang around after information sessions)
  • Lectures and panel discussions (not just with the guest speakers, but also other professionals in attendance)
  • Club and organization meetings (these are great places to learn from juniors and seniors)
  • Professional conferences (many professional fields offer these, and there are typically structured opportunities)
  • ND Club (a.k.a. alumni club) meetings and gatherings (look for these when you are home for winter break or over the summer, particularly if you are living in another city for an internship)
  • Meetings and gatherings of ND alumni affinity groups (these are alums who care deeply about ND and are likely to connect with you)
  • Gatherings when alumni are back on campus  (think about Welcome Weekend, athletic events, and event tailgates)

These structured gatherings provide you opportunities to meet people. While some of these encounters may be brief, you can use these meetings as a way to open the door to a future informational interview.

Start networking by messaging online

If walking up to someone you don't know, even an alum, to strike up a conversation feels intimidating to you, you're not alone!  The easiest starting point to many meaningful relationships comes through messaging and interaction on social platforms (primarily LinkedIn).

You don't have to rely on picking up the phone or walk up to an executive at a social event -- start by building a relationship online. Here are three ways to do it:

  • Research alumni
  • Follow them on LinkedIn
  • "Like" their posts
  • Comment on their posts
  • Send a connection request with a brief intro message that comments about their work, does not ask for anything

Want to learn more about this approach? Check out Jeff Su's Introvert's Guide to Networking where he gives you a few tips on how easy networking can be accomplished online.

Informational interviews

You now know where to network and how to take small steps to build a connection. The next step takes some courage. You need to take the initiative. This type of networking is known as an informational interview.

An informational interview is simply a conversation where you meet someone you have something in common with. An informational interview is not about asking for a job -- the goal is to learn from their experiences and insight.  Talk about Notre Dame football, or what life is like on campus. Remember to start this as a social conversation and not leading with an ask. 

Track your progress

To help you build a professional network, we've created an interactive tool (using Google Sheets). The Networking Planner, also known as a" networking tracker," will help you think about where to find people to network with, what questions to ask, and also come up with a plan to keep in touch.

Get your personal Networking Planner

7 steps to effective networking

If you are just getting started with networking, we've provided you an easy-to-follow, 7 step structured process.

Learn the 7 steps