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5 networking and mentorship tips for online students

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At a glance

  • Creating and maintaining a professional social network is vital for developing communication skills and building a reputation among your peers.
  • Whether attending classes in person or online, you must present yourself professionally.
  • Remaining in contact with course instructors after a class ends can foster a professional relationship that may further enhance your growing network.
  • If you attend online courses, you can still network through participating in class discussions or engaging with the school’s social media platforms.
  • Get more networking and career tips with our LinkedIn newsletter!

Networking isn’t just for business professionals. Even before earning a diploma, students can begin building a network of peers and contacts. This can help you connect with other members in your industry and potentially help you find job opportunities after you graduate.

Estimates put as much as 85% of the current workforce as being hired because of networking, even though 25% of professionals don’t invest time into networking in the industry.

Creating and maintaining a network is important for all students, no matter your field. It can be especially significant for students in areas like business and human resources (HR), where you’ll need skills in communication, leadership and personnel management.

Networking will look different for each student. It might require a nuanced approach, particularly if you’re studying online rather than attending classes on campus. Many remote students use the LinkedIn® website as a professional social media site to connect with others without ever meeting them in person.

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How is networking different when studying online?

Online students need to find a different approach to networking. In many ways, networking can be easier when you’re studying in person, since you might share a classroom with peers or other contacts you want to add to your network. While learning in person, you can easily interact with other people with the same study habits, skills and career goals.

While there’s no replacement for in-person interactions, studying online presents its own opportunities for effective networking. For example, you can likely connect with more classmates through virtual message boards and virtual events than if you were in person.

Networking remotely is all about intentionality. It’s important to make time for it if you’re studying online, even if virtual conversations feel forced or artificial. Like in-person networking, virtual networking can help you when the time comes to look for a new job or opportunity.

How to engage in professional networking as an online student

Not sure how to approach like-minded professionals as an online student? Here are five tips to keep in mind!

Present yourself professionally

Presentation is one of the first things that potential network contacts will notice about you. Even if you’re remotely networking with other contacts, it’s important to present yourself in a professional manner. This means dressing appropriately, using professional photos for social profiles and using language that appropriately conveys your interests and abilities.

Here are a few more details on how to present yourself professionally, even online:

Many aspects of your industry might change Work hard — Demonstrate your ability to accept responsibility and complete tasks through a disciplined, hardworking approach to any project.

  • Follow through on commitments — Continue working on projects until you’ve completed them and make sure you’re proud of the quality of work you deliver.
  • Refrain from complaining — Don’t denigrate people, previous work experience or your industry. Instead, demonstrate a diligent approach to your work regardless of the challenges you might face.
  • Maintain a professional image — Use professional headshots and other images on professional social profiles, and dress professionally during video calls.
  • Know your audience — Tailor your interview responses, social media posts, online messages and other content to your audience. Use terms they will understand and concepts that fellow students will want to comment on.
  • Stay positive — Even when things don’t go your way, keep an optimistic outlook. Your network contacts will notice how your upbeat demeanor creates a positive work environment, one they likely want to be a part of.

Many aspects of your industry might change regularly, including your company’s products and services, digital touch points, branding, messaging, team size, compensation packages or other variables. Stay attentive to your industry as you grow more experienced, and be sure to keep your network up to date as things evolve.

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Be reliable

Reliability might seem like a simple characteristic, but it often separates veteran employees from people who might have trouble advancing in a particular field. Demonstrating reliability can make a big impression on your classmates and positively contribute to your network.

While it is especially critical for anyone in an HR role — since you’ll directly influence other employees — reliability is important for students looking to enter virtually any field. Fortunately, there are many ways to exhibit reliability in an academic environment. 

Make sure your teammates know you can be counted on in group projects. By accepting and following through on your responsibilities, you'll develop a reputation as a reliable team member. Organizing a study group can also help, particularly if you've compiled study materials for the group.

Stay active in online discourse

As a student, networking requires more than passive participation in a class or course. You’ll need to contribute actively to online discourse. Lending your voice, opinions and insight to an online conversation helps establish you as a thoughtful individual who might attract peers to join your network.

Staying active in online discourse also helps other students remember who you are, even after the class concludes. If fellow students have questions about the class or the coursework — or they want to connect with you after the class has concluded — they can return to your online conversations and find your contact information.

To network online, you also want to seek out virtual events. When attending virtual networking events, you are more likely to find like-minded individuals who are also interested in professional networking.

Remain in contact with instructors

In addition to their responsibilities as educators, some online instructors also have years of experience in their industry. These same instructors can be valuable network contacts after your classes end, particularly if you impressed them with your skills and study habits.

Keeping in contact with instructors can help you build rapport and possibly gain a mentor. After classes conclude and you graduate from your online learning program, keep in touch with instructors who helped further your education. These instructors can serve as valuable mentors no matter where you are in your career.

Staying in touch doesn’t need to be complicated. Consider sending your instructors a regular career update as a “thank you” for their role in your education. You can also forward relevant business materials their way or ask for their advice when your career reaches a crossroads.

Even if it has been years since you last spoke with one of your instructors, don’t be afraid to start new conversations. Reestablishing contact can help you obtain new insight or simply add more people to your growing list of network contacts.

Interact with university social media

Your university’s social media pages can provide a wealth of information, including updates on school details, alumni programs and new courses worth your time. Fully remote students can also find value here. You can use school-related social media to interact with students in your class and keep in touch after the course.

You can also share new ideas and gain feedback from other students on any industry-related challenge. If you’re unsure which social media platforms your university uses, the admissions department can likely help.

Between social media and professional networking platforms, the online world is full of opportunities to connect. The trick is to leverage each opportunity to your fullest advantage, all with an eye toward professionalism and career enhancement

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