Leveraging the Digital World to Stay Connected IRL
Sitting at a laptop for online classes really puts you at a disadvantage for making connections and building a network IRL.
Like many college students across the country, my classes are online and will be for the remainder of the school year. And, the events I would normally attend in-person to meet new people and make connections have been cancelled or also moved online.
Social lives can feel stifled and professional connections become stagnant in times when we’re told to stay home or keep six feet apart. But, you can still make the most of your time in college (even if it’s over Zoom) to cultivate new friendships and connections—all from home.
Network, Network, Network
You can connect with new people—and reconnect with existing contacts—on practically any social network out there.
Keep in touch with peers and school alumni on LinkedIn or other college networks. Follow accounts on Instagram or Facebook that speak specifically to your interests, whether they’re hobbies or career aspirations.
Attend virtual school career fairs, join online discussion and attend virtual conferences. If you’re at all interested in fashion, media, or business like me, HerCampus.com and Fashion Fundamentals have fantastic programs for college students to connect with one another. Chances are, there are probably students at your school and/or in your city that would love to make new friends. I’ve personally made some of my closest friends through them!
Join a club that caters to your interests like debate, theater/performing arts, visual arts, journalism, volunteering and religion. If you can’t find one of that fits you, consider starting your own. (Bonus: It looks killer on a resume!)
All of these connections, whether they’re just a brief chat or a sustained friendship, help build your connections now and will become an asset after you graduate college and begin your job search.
Learn Something New
Attended conferences specifically for college students hosted by major businesses to hear from employees and CEOs on their journeys.
I’m a big fan of Adobe’s and HerConference (2021 info hasn’t been released yet, but prior years have been phenomenal!) because they’re very interactive and have a fantastic lineup of speakers. The majority are free to attend, and the advice they provide is invaluable. Check their LinkedIn accounts for announcements on future events.
Grab a (Virtual) Coffee with a Mentor
Start following companies or organizations on LinkedIn that really speak to you and your career aspirations. On top of that, start following leaders from those organizations. And if you’re really interested, connect with them and ask if they have time to “grab a coffee” and chat virtually. (It might feel weird, but it’s pretty common to seek out mentorship. And the worst they can say is no, right?)
It’s a great way to learn from their experience—how they got to where they are today, what their everyday workplace environment looks like, and nuggets of valuable advice you can heed. Many people (especially college alumni) are happy to talk with college students, and the new connection will help you transition into the workforce after graduation.
Spiff Up Your LinkedIn Profile
Many high school, and even college, students think that they don’t need to have a LinkedIn profile just yet.
But I highly recommend making one ASAP.
Having a LinkedIn profile will give you a head start in your career, and most employers will want to see a LinkedIn profile during the application process. Here are a few quick tips for the beginnings of a professional LinkedIn page:
- Fill out your profile thoroughly and include with your work experiences, awards you’ve won, publications you’ve been featured in, skills you’ve learned, etc.
- Connect with people you know (and ask them to endorse you for your skill sets).
- Add a professional headshot for your profile picture. Or, at least, make it look professional: clear, no filters and no distracting backgrounds. You can always get a second opinion to be sure.
- Add a background image. Recruiters may pass over profiles that do not have a background image, so add one. (This can only be added on a desktop, not via the mobile app.)
- Congratulate your connections on new job positions, events or awards and comment on their posts. This is not only kind and supportive but it also keeps your name and face in their feeds. Visibility is key. Likewise, if you’re proud of work you’ve done, share it with your network.
Social Distancing Doesn’t Have to Mean Social Stagnation
Conducting a decent portion of your educational and social life online doesn’t have to feel like chore or an impossibility. There are many ways to make new friends, nurture existing relationships and make strides in your blossoming professional life. It’s worth a little extra effort, but the pay off is worthwhile.
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