Networking is a common buzzword. But what exactly is it and why does it matter to African students who are studying abroad? Keep reading to find out.
Networking is the process of building connections with people who share similar interests as you. These could be people in your academic field, industry of interest, and even your fellow students.
The value of networking cannot be overstated. Networking not only makes it easier for students to land internships and jobs of their interest but also provides an avenue for valuable mentorship. Without strong networks, it is almost impossible for you to make meaningful professional steps.
So how do you go about networking? Below are some of the common steps that you can follow as an African student studying abroad.
Connect With Your Professors
Being the closest to you, professors in your university are one of the best people to make solid networks with. Apart from being experts in their academic fields, many professors tend to have good connections outside the academy. As such, being close to them is extremely important.
How do you connect with your professors besides attending their classes? There are a number of ways in which you can do this. In many international universities, professors have a dedicated time in which you can meet them. This is also known as office hours. Do not be shy about booking office hours with your professors. Use this time not only to get clarity about academic topics but also to make an impression on your professors.
Apart from attending office hours, make sure you are active in the class. This means that when a professor raises a question or a discussion topic, you should aim to share your contribution even if you feel that you are not well-versed in the subject. Failure to contribute in the classroom may give your instructors the impression that you have low confidence or poorly prepared for their classes. This, in turn, may end up creating a poor relationship with your professors.
Keep in mind that when you make applications for further studies, fellowships, and some forms of employment, your professors are the ones who are going to write your recommendation letters. The more they know you, the more likely they are to write you a strong letter of recommendation.
Make Use of the Career Center
Career centers are one of the most valuable resources in any university. A career center is simply an office within the university with professionals who assist students with career planning. Officials at the career center can review your resume, cover letters, and even help you with job search.
International students sometimes tend to be shy about visiting the career center. Remember that the resources at the career center are meant for all students – you do not have to be in your last year of studies or a domestic student in order to get the most out of the career center. Aim to establish a good relationship with your university’s career center as early as the first year of your studies.
Attend Virtual Events and Seminars
Thanks to the internet, many companies and organizations hold free virtual informational seminars. If you are interested in working for a specific organization, find out what kinds of virtual events they hold and whether you are allowed to attend. In most cases, you will find an event that is specifically meant for students. Sign up and attend these virtual events.
By attending virtual events and seminars hosted by the organizations that you hope to work for, you will have a unique opportunity to learn more about those organizations as well as meet other people who have the same interests as you. Ensure you request for these people’s contact information and keep in touch with them once the event is over.
Use LinkedIn, Indeed, and Other Professional Sites
Sites like LinkedIn and Indeed are valuable tools that African students studying abroad should take advantage of. These sites are great resources because many professionals have accounts there and they actively use them to network with new people.
Creating a strong LinkedIn account is an excellent way to build networks as well as expose yourself to potential employers. LinkedIn and Indeed also make it extremely easy to apply for jobs. Given these advantages, you should take your time to create a strong LinkedIn profile and be active on the platform.
Ensure that you update your LinkedIn profile regularly to reflect your latest experience and achievements. This will enable you to get more noticed by recruiters and potential employers.
Join Professional Associations and Clubs
In most international universities, there are student clubs that are specifically meant for students interested in a certain field. For instance, if you are interested in investment banking, there is a high likelihood that your university will have an investment or finance club. Ensure you join these types of clubs because this will give you a chance to connect with like-minded students and attend events that will give you more exposure to your industry of interest.
Pursue Internships and Volunteering
Volunteering– whether in your industry of interest or beyond it–will help you sharpen your interpersonal skills. These include communication and working in a team. While you may not have much time to volunteer while attending school, a few hours every week will suffice. For instance, you could volunteer to be a tutor for local high school students, or you could volunteer in a homeless shelter in the vicinity of your neighborhood. These activities will not only help in making a positive difference in someone else’s life but also give you a chance to connect with new people who can be valuable in your professional journey.
The value of networking cannot be stressed enough. As an African student studying abroad, you must make an effort to build your professional network so that when you begin applying for jobs and internships, you will have an easier time. Failure to build your network will make it very challenging to develop professionally.
Keep in mind that networking is all about being genuine and confident. While you are not expected to beg for favors, you should not feel shy about reaching out to more experienced professionals with questions. If done right, networking can propel you to your professional targets.