Why you should network at university (and what networking means for students)

By Emily McAuliffe

Networking can seem a little intimidating, particularly if you’re a student and are yet to embark on your career. But it’s never too early to start and effective networking can lead to big results in the long run.

Student networking at university


You’ve probably heard the phrase ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’. This phrase gets thrown around a lot because to some extent it’s true. But if you don’t think you know the right people, never fear! All you need to do is get out there and meet them. 

That’s how networking works – you meet people who know other people, and you never know where those connections might lead. And if you start networking while at university, you’ll have a head start when it comes to building your career. 

There are a few things to keep in mind to network effectively, so here are some networking tips for students. 

Be polite 

It goes without saying that for people to take an interest in you, you need to be the kind of person they want to talk to. Being polite and friendly and actively listening can go a long way in helping build strong connections. Don’t try too hard or act overly confident or pushy – the best approach is to just be yourself.  

Do your research 

It can be a good idea to find out who will be attending a networking event ahead of time where possible. This will let you work out who you want to meet, and you can research them ahead of time. The same applies if you plan to email someone or connect with them on social media.  

Having some knowledge of a person’s career, achievements, company or interests can help spark a conversation in person or help make a personable introduction online. (Though, make sure any information you cite is easily accessible – there’s a fine line between looking well-informed and looking like a stalker!) And remember, people love talking about themselves, so show genuine interest in the person you are trying to connect with and don’t be afraid to ask questions.  

Networking research

Find something in common 

It can be hard to know what to talk about when you meet someone new, so try to find something in common that will help establish a bond. This could come from your research or by asking questions about where they grew up, what they studied at university, where they’ve travelled to or their favourite destination, or how they got started in their career. Sometimes something will pop up in conversation that will help you form a mutual connection.  

At Trinity College, the simple commonality of being a Trinitarian (that’s what we call our students and alumni) is enough to spark many useful connections. Our alumni love helping each other and our Trinity students out, as they have shared memories and experiences, and have often benefitted from Trinity’s network as they grew their own career. (We also make it super easy for our alumni and students to find people in their field of interest through our online networking platform My Trinity Connect.)

Prepare your elevator pitch 

You’ve probably heard of an elevator pitch before – it’s a short statement that sums up who you are and what you do. You want to make sure your introduction sounds natural, so there’s no need to over-rehearse it, but it can be a good idea to have an idea of what you want to say when somebody asks about what you’re studying or what you want to do. (Saying you’re still deciding and are building your network to help guide you is perfectly fine too!) 

Elevator pitch networking

Follow up 

It’s a good idea to follow up with the people you meet. This helps build a stronger connection and is another chance to remind people who you are and what you’re interested in. If you talk to someone at an event, ask for their business card or to connect on LinkedIn. Send an email or direct message within a few days to say you enjoyed meeting them. Consider recapping a few things you spoke to them about to remind them who you are (remember, it’s not uncommon to meet a lot of new people at a networking event, so a little memory jog can be welcome). 

Follow-ups can also be useful after online events, where it’s often difficult to have a proper conversation with presenters or other participants. If you enjoyed a presentation or saw that someone you’d like to speak with attended the same online event as you, use that event as the common ground to strike up a conversation via email or social media. 

When it comes to following up, avoid being pushy. Unless the person agreed to help you with something when you spoke or emailed, try to avoid asking for something straight off the bat. If you do want to ask for help – such as advice or an introduction – try to keep your request quick and simple. It goes without saying that you should express sincere thanks for any help you receive – refer back to point one.

Man with headphones talking at laptop screen

Be patient

Building valuable connections through networking is much like making friends in other areas of life. Some people you will naturally connect with, others you won’t. Part of networking is understanding that not everyone you meet will become a close connection, and not everyone will be willing to help you (in such cases, don’t take it personally – you never know what else is going on in someone’s life). If a connection feels forced, don’t push it too hard – perhaps that person isn’t the right fit for you at this particular point in time.  

Networking also goes both ways, so if you are demanding time and energy from someone without giving anything in return, you may find their willingness to engage with you starts to wane. As a student it can be easy to feel like you don’t have much to offer in return, but never underestimate the power of saying thank you, and even a simple offer to assist them in future if the opportunity arises.  

A student example

Want to see how networking works in action? Read this article about one of our students Evan Sinclair, who used the Trinity College network to help build his career.


31 Aug 2020
Category: Learning