“And remember to talk to strangers!”
I had a professor a few years back who would remind us of this on a consistent basis. She knew most students in the class were looking for internships or applying to graduate schools—two endeavors which can greatly benefit from strong networking.
I had never really thought of it before, since the adults in my life would inform me growing up that interacting with strangers is usually not a good thing. But as a student on the verge of becoming a young professional, that is exactly what you should do. All it takes is one serendipitous encounter with the right person, and you may be presented with a unique career or academic opportunity.
If you’re looking for a job or internship, hit up as many career fairs and organized networking events as you can. And when you get there, don’t be afraid to share what you are looking for with anyone you may converse with, whether it’s a specific type of job or just a certain field of interest. Even if the people you interact with do not have a position in mind on the spot, they may remember you for a future opportunity. For this reason, collect as many business cards as you can, and distribute cards if you happen to have your own. The more professionals who remember you, the better. You have nothing to lose by conversing with these strangers.
For those of you (particularly in the sciences) looking to participate in research, cold contacting professors may be more beneficial than you realize. Look up online the professors in your school conducting research in an area that interests you and send them a quick email. Many would love to discuss their research with you. They may even have a position open for you, and if not, they can potentially recommend other faculty members to get with which to get in contact.
Applying to grad school? Talking to strangers can certainly help you here as well. Find directors in the programs you wish to apply to, and email them about setting up a possible meeting to discuss the particular program. Most would be happy to do so, or at the very least set you up on a tour or info session. You can gain useful information about the schools and the respective faculty by doing this. Try to walk away with at least one or two contacts from the programs in case you have any follow up questions or concerns.
In the end, just be as open to meeting someone new as you can. It may sound easy, but for some this can be a bit tricky. Just remember, there is no harm in introducing yourself, asking for a business card, sending an email, or making a quick phone call to someone you don’t know. One well timed outreach with the right individual, and you may find an opportunity you may not have had otherwise.