By Mackinna HartIt’s all about who you know. I’m sure a lot of us have heard this over and over from parents, friends, and professors. But how do you start making these connections? And what do you do once you’ve made them? Here some strategies to become a pro at professional networking. 1. Be open to meeting lots and lots of people You’ve got to start somewhere, and some of the best connections come from unexpected places or people. Talk to everyone. For instance, your cousin’s boyfriend might know an assistant at a law firm that you’re interested in learning more about. Or you could meet someone while checking out at the grocery store whose daughter just got promoted to manager at that marketing agency you’ve been dreaming of working for. And besides the networking goldmine of the supermarket, take advantage of local dedicated professional networking events. Check with your school’s employment office for tons of events in your area. 2. Socialize on social media The internet is one of the best ways to make that initial connection with someone. There are so many platforms that enable us to engage with each other personally and professionally. LinkedIn, for instance, shows you if you and the person you want to network with know anyone in common, so you can ask your friends to make an introduction. Social media is also a great way to keep up with what people in your professional network are doing. That way the next time you talk to them you can ask about how their latest project is going. 3. Build relationships and stay in touch The trick to being great at networking is to build relationships. Don’t treat a person as a means to an end. They’ll know and be less likely to want to help out. Find some common ground so that there’s something other than work you can talk about. It’s also a good idea to get in touch when they or their company achieve an accomplishment. Let them know how cool it is, but don’t overdo it. Getting in touch every month or so keeps you on their mind without becoming a bother. 4. Don’t be afraid to ask for favors Most people in the position to help students and young professionals with their careers are happy to do it. Someone probably helped them with their career when they were trying to figure it out. Maybe it’s a professor who has experience in an industry you’re interested in, or a professional who gave a talk on your campus — don’t be scared to talk to them! Whether it’s an informational interview, introductions, resume feedback, or general advice about your career path and options, the insight (and connections) you gain can be invaluable. And one day when you’re a high–powered professional yourself, you can return the favor by helping someone else! 5. Do internships and externships One of the best ways to make professional connections is at work! Not only will internships and externships help you gain experience, build your resume, and give you an inside look into what a job is really like, they’re great ways to make professional contacts and grow your network. After all, who could be a better reference than someone you’ve worked with? (P.S. Many internships and externships pay a salary and/or can be used for college credit.) 6. Make a networking spreadsheet Every time you meet someone, you should keep track of your new connections in a networking spreadsheet. Include information such as when and where you met them, their contact information, the company they work for, and something interesting you found out about them so that next time you meet you can look at your notes and they’ll feel like you know them. 7. Get some business cards One last tidbit to keep in mind. It’s useful to carry around professional-looking business cards, even if it just has your name, number, and email. They’re quick and easy to hand out and will demonstrate your professionalism. When you’re networking, don’t be afraid to be you. Let people know what you’re passionate about, have fun, and go grow your professional network! Use our internship and job search to build your skills, expand your professional network, and start your career. Animations courtesy of Giphy. About the author Mackinna is currently a student at Belmont University studying music business. She is also a firm believer that a spoonful of Nutella can solve any problem! She loves to write and be creative whether that be via songs, articles, or poetry.