These days, if you hear the term “networking,” your mind may immediately jump to “social networking”—and indeed, technology tools such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn provide a powerful and convenient means of developing and maintaining your personal and professional connections.

But there’s more to a network than the number of people who “friend” you on Facebook or follow you on Twitter. On a deeper level, effective networking involves developing relationships with other people, sharing relevant information and resources, and providing mutual support and encouragement on the path to reaching your goals. Your network can also open doors to potential career opportunities, and may even help you land a job.

For some students, it may be challenging to begin developing a network. Those who are a bit shy, or those who simply haven’t had the opportunity to build relationships of a more collegial or professional nature, may appreciate an opportunity to practice making connections before they’re ready to graduate from college and begin their first job searches.

In the Instructor’s Resource Manual for Creating Career Success: A Flexible Plan for the World of Work, authors Francine Fabricant, Jennifer Miller, and Debra J. Stark provide an activity that provides students with an opportunity to begin developing some of the skills they’ll need as they seek to establish a professional network. As students participate in the activity, they’ll also become more familiar with their classmates, and hopefully build some positive relationships that last far longer than the length of the term.

This exercise will involve helping students practice conducting an informational interview. They should be split into pairs, and expect them to move around the room in a “Speed Networking” (like “Speed Dating”) format. Tell the students that their goal is create a comfortable interaction, in which each person shares something about themselves. They can opt to alternate asking questions, or they can just engage in a conversation. They must work that out in each pair. In each dyad, students must learn about such topics as why they chose their major, what clubs they belong to, why they joined those clubs, what activities they participate in, and other networking style questions directed toward student life. (You can list some of these topics on the board.) Use a stopwatch to tell students to “Switch” every 3 minutes, until everyone has met for an informational interview. Debrief after the speed networking and invite students to share their reactions. Questions might include: How much did you learn in 3 minutes? Did it feel like a conversation? Did it get easier as you interviewed more people? Did you notice that it was easier to connect with some people? What made it easier or more difficult? (p. 30)

Reference: Fabricant, Francine, Miller, Jennifer, and Stark, Debra J. Instructor’s Resource Manual for Creating Career Success: A Flexible Plan for the World of Work. 2014. Boston: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

What are your strategies for encouraging students to build connections with others? Share your ideas and activities below.