Andrew Epperson/ Mustang News

“Who do you know here?”

That’s an important question in the professional world, because it is commonly said that it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.

Business networking is a crucial part of becoming a successful professional. It involves tools such as LinkedIn, as well as your personal connections to help you stand out in a competitive environment.

According to career counselor Ashley Eberle, knowing how to network effectively is an extremely important skill.

However, students might feel uncomfortable with the idea of networking — as if they are selling themselves to others or using other people to meet their goals, Eberle said in an email to Mustang News.

“But true networking is about building genuine relationships that benefit both people,” Eberle said.

The power of LinkedIn

In order to expand your professional network, start by creating a LinkedIn account. Expand your circle by connecting with important relationships. This will help you seek out internships and potential employers.

LinkedIn is like an online interactive resume that allows people to view each other’s profiles and past experience. With more than 400 million users in more than 200 countries and territories, LinkedIn users can use the site to search for jobs and internships, and follow specific companies to receive notifications of hiring opportunities.

LinkedIn is a great start to make and maintain long-distance and long-term connections, but visiting a college career center or professional career counselor will provide one-on-one mentorship to help you identify your networking needs and interests.

How to build up a ‘small’ network

Don’t be discouraged if your network starts small.

To become successful, you must have something to build on. Networking never stops. As you move along in your career, you will meet new people who will be integrated into your circle, and who will be willing to help you if you maintain a good connection with them.

“Sometimes students think that the only way they can network is by attending large events, like our career fairs, but networking takes many forms,” Eberle said. “You could reach out to Cal Poly alumni on LinkedIn, join a club related to your career interests or meet one-on-one for coffee with a professional in your field.”

Though networking can be nerve-wrecking, Eberle said that with practice, it gets easier.

As with anything in life, what you put into networking is what you get out of it. Eberle emphasized taking the time to introduce yourself and do your research.

“Successful networking begins with preparation. For instance, if you’re attending the career fair, learn more about the positions that companies are offering by researching on MustangJOBS,” she said. “If you’re meeting a professional for coffee, look that person up on LinkedIn and do some research about where they work. Being prepared will help you feel more confident and impress the people with whom you network.”

This career fair, introduce yourself to everyone you can and make sure to be confident, friendly and open-minded. Make networking your best friend and future aid for success.

“Keep in mind that networking is a reciprocal relationship,” Eberle said. “Look for opportunities to help other people professionally, whether that’s commenting on their LinkedIn posts, introducing them to someone you know or sharing useful information.”

Career Services offers nine counselors on staff to help students build their networking skills. Appointments are available at  805-756-2501 or during the walk-in FasTrak option, which is available Monday through Thursday 1 to 4 p.m. in Student Services (building 124).

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