Networking with Professors: The New Way of the Future

Your college years may seem like a means to an end, but it's much more than that: it's two to four years of low-key training for life in the so-called "real world" where who you know matters more than what you know. A new game is in town, and it's called networking with your profs.

Your Profs are Like Mini Bosses

Make a bit of a leap for a second: both managers and profs are in positions of power and authority over you, and each offers a reward for doing a job well the way they want. The main difference is your boss's reward helps you pay your rent and bills, while your prof's reward helps you get the job to pay your rent and bills.

The other difference is rewards from both aren't entirely merit-based; if they were, the smartest kids and the hardest-working employees would always rise to the top. They don't, so personality plays a role, too.

Use the Same Approach of Focused Contact

When doing business with colleagues, the key to networking is to make contacts with people who will be useful to you both short- and long-term. The same goes at college, except you want to think a little more short-term than in business because you just won't be at school as long as you will at your career.

Instead, while you're at university, target the profs who can make a difference based on what your needs and goals are. If you're aiming to study Asian history at the graduate level, buddy up to profs in that department. Or if your passion is in film or music, ask around in those departments and see if you can audit classes.

Keep Up Steady (but Polite) Contact

The second-worst way to network is to go overboard (the worst is to not bother at all), and this is especially true at the college level. You're in training mode here, and it's crucial to learn from your mistakes as quickly as possible so you avoid making them at the career level. Right now, the only immediate thing you have riding on the line is maybe an awkward lecture or two. But there'll come a day when it costs you a promotion or raise, which has much bigger consequences than one grade out of hundreds.

Email your profs semi-regularly to ask a question about the homework or to schedule a quick one-on-one session, and then leave it at that. Volunteer well thought-out answers in class, but don't be the keener stereotypes are based on. If your department has student-prof hangouts, attend, but behave yourself. You're constantly auditioning for the future, and image is almost everything. And sometimes, it might just be the best to ask them honestly if they can advise you on how to move forward. They were in your position once and had to go through exactly what you're going through now, so pick their brain if they seem up for it.