As a college student, the term “networking” is tossed around in nearly every career-related conversation. The idea of it can seem daunting, or like something to be figured out later on in one’s career. In some cases, students place no priority on networking because they don’t know how to do it or understand its importance.
Simply put, networking is building business connections. It’s about creating mutually-beneficial business relationships with other people, usually within the same industry. Although much of a person’s young professional career will involve building connections, there’s no reason why someone can’t start the process while they’re still a student – in fact, they probably should.
Grace Flemer, account coordinator at HMA Public Relations, and Bri Roselius, public relations intern at Three Box, are both products of The University of Alabama’s (UA) public relations department (Grace is a recent graduate and Bri will be a senior in the fall). They’re teaming up to share the importance of making business connections in college and how it’s impacting their early professional years.
College can be the best four years of your life, yet it flies by so quickly. How did you get to where you are today?
GF: After graduation in May, I drove out to Phoenix. I knew I couldn’t sit around waiting for a job to land in my lap. The current digital era has graduates waiting for a response from online applications, but that was driving me crazy. I had to fight for the job that I believed I deserved. I got in my car, printed out a stack of resumes and typed “public relations firms near me” into my GPS. HMA Public Relations was the first agency that popped up. I walked into the office and mentioned to Abbie Fink that I was a recent graduate with a public relations degree and I was in search of a job. After a few more days of conversations, an account coordinator position opened up. For the past two months I have been a proud HMA-er.
BR: I will be a senior at The University of Alabama come this fall. I am currently an intern at Three Box learning from a team of incredible account leaders. I do a little bit of everything, from compiling social media reports to drafting pitches. Every day is different, which only increases my fondness for this industry. I have the amazing opportunity to work with a variety of brands, and it has expanded my knowledge and scope of PR and communications.
What did networking look like in college? What did your school offer, what groups were you a part of and what types of events did you attend?
GF: The biggest networking component from my college experience was the Career Center. I was constantly searching the website for internship and job interview opportunities, and I attended as many of the career fairs as possible. I was a member of the Public Relations Council of Alabama (PRCA) during my time as a student and got to meet many influential people from all over the state. I was also in a sorority on campus, which provided me with a group of women that helped lead me in the right direction. In addition, many of my professors spoke on the importance of LinkedIn. It’s an effective tool for easily staying in touch with people all over the world and discovering more about the industry in which you’d like to work.
BR: Networking opportunities are abundant at UA and the PR college offers many opportunities for students to gain experience in this industry. I’m editor in chief of The Grit, a student newsletter, and a member of PRSSA. I'm also part of the Capstone Agency, UA’s student-run communications firm. I started as a member of Capstone Agency and have worked my way up to director of the media department, handling all internal written deliverables and pitching for Capstone’s nine client teams. I’ve formed close-knit relationships with my professors and Capstone's faculty advisor, as well as had the chance to meet PR professionals from agencies across the country.
How was your experience making business connections in college?
GF: I attended every event as if my future boss was there. If an event involved a speaker, I made sure to go up to the front at the end of the lecture and introduce myself to them. You never know what can make you stand out from others in a crowd.
BR: I’ve had an extremely positive experience so far. One thing I’ve noticed is making PR connections isn’t confined to PR events and functions. You can meet PR professionals anywhere! I’ve learned three key takeaways: always present yourself in a professional manner (you don’t always know who you’re meeting or who they may know), represent yourself positively on social media and ALWAYS carry a business card! As scary as it may seem, putting yourself out there and showing interest in a PR professional goes a long way. Ask for their card, send a follow-up email, invite them to coffee – all of these actions can lead to forming a long-lasting and mutually beneficial relationship or mentorship.
What is the importance of making those connections while you’re still in school? How would you encourage other students to identify and pursue professional connections?
GF: As a recent graduate, I encourage students to join as many groups and attend as many events as they can during the first few weeks of their freshman year. I wish I had been involved more at the beginning of my college experience to set a stronger foundation for myself. Connections are made every day. I also believe that every interview helps, regardless of whether or not you get the job. The more you interview, the better you will become in those situations. I'd also encourage other students to have an open mind as they begin their college experiences. It’s always difficult to step out of your comfort zone, but that’s how you learn and grow.
BR: In an industry like PR, you never know who can help open doors for you. I believe it’s crucial to begin making those connections in college. Having a mentor – whether it’s a professor or boss – can help budding PR professionals learn the ropes, receive guidance and meet other professionals in the industry. By making connections and forming relationships early on, you’re increasing your chances of nailing down a future internship or job. I would advise college students to get involved at their school, take an interest in one of your professors and attend PRSSA meetings and events. The more you’re involved and interacting with people within your college, the more opportunities become available.
Header photo courtesy of GW Public Health on Flickr