Networking isn't a "thing", it's everything
In college, I had people from all angles teaching me the "importance of networking", of getting out there and making connections, meeting new people and developing opportunities for the future. But here's the thing, I had no idea how to do that. Of course, there were consistent networking events around campus, consisting of students, advisors and business professionals alike standing around in uncomfortable clothing, eating cheese and crackers & forcing conversations with strangers. I went to a few of these, as well as a few sponsored speakers talking about their company and the potential for internships. Each time, I'd think to myself, "Am I networking? Am I doing it right?". I had no clue.
It wasn't until long after I graduated (well, I graduated 8 months ago, so take that as you wish) that i really figured out what networking is.
It's everything, it's all the time, and it's really nothing at all.
The best networking I ever did? I had coffee after class one morning with a professor, who took time out if his day to take 20 minutes and catch up. Coffee lead to talking to me about a company one of his recent alumni worked for, who'd be on campus in a few days. I researched this company, had an interview with the northern division manager, they liked me and I flew to Milwaukee for a final round interview the following week, and had a job offer. Fast forward 6 months, here I am, working for that very company. How could one, 20-minute coffee be more fruitful than the countless "networking events" I had been to and seen advertised for four years?
Now, here’s the problem with that. You can’t see the future, and you have no idea when this moment is going to come. So what do you do? Go to every single one in the hopes that it’s “the” one? Try to pick and choose which you attend, based on who you think will be there, or around your schedule?
My advice, is to trust your gut. You might be saying, “oh please, that’s your advice”? Yeah, it is.
Do you have a big test tomorrow, and can’t catch up with an old buddy who’s on campus and who’s working at that accounting firm you’d love to get into? Well, my advice to you is screw the test, because in the grand scheme, meeting up for a beer with the potential to get a recruiter’s contact information is far more valuable than getting a 90 on an exam when you might instead just pull off a 70.
If you think the test is a more valuable use of those 5 hours, then by all means, study. If you’re doing well in class and/or don’t care much for the topic, then get dinner. Do the best you can, and what you think is best, in every situation. After all, isn’t that all you can really do anyways?
The other thing I can’t stress enough is to be open, get yourself out there. Make up 500 business cards with your contact info, degree and expertise, and carry them, all the time. You never know where your buddy’s sister works, or who your roommate’s dad might know while out to dinner on parents weekend.
Utilize what’s around you every single day. Don’t just throw an application on a website, dig deeper, try to find the recruiter’s contact information, follow the company on social, reach out to connections you may have on LinkedIn, and I promise you, things will fall into place. It could be days, it could be years, but the hustle pays off.