The U.S. Department of Labor says that 48% of people find their jobs through referrals or word of mouth. In short, networking is the single most effective strategy for landing the job you want. Getting a job by knowing the right person seems like having an unfair advantage over the millions of job seekers who respond to classified ads, post their resumes online, and cold call companies. On the other hand, everybody else is already playing the networking game. One of the best networking strategies is to start building up your connections early in your career.

Why network in college?

If you’re in school now, you might not want to enter the workforce full-time, or you may not be qualified for your ideal position until you’ve got the degree in your hands. But networking in college is one of the best ways to get close to the people who can help you down the road.

Think about it this way. By showing up on time, participating in class, being a reliable team member on group projects, and sharing notes with students who are out sick, you’re already demonstrating skills that will make you a superb employee. All those people you meet in your major classes are going to go out into the world seeking similar careers, some before you graduate, and some after.

Once you’re out of school, your former classmates will become your competition for entry-level jobs. That’s why making friends and playing nice has its advantages. Networking in college means that your peers who find employment first can point you toward companies who are hiring and even recommend you to their own companies when positions become available.

Keep in touch with classmates.

One key to successful college networking is keeping in touch after graduation. If you’re not super-chummy, use email, Facebook, and Twitter to keep your contacts in the loop. Asking for advice, introductions, and recommendations goes over much better when you’re already in regular communication.

Another key to successfully networking in college is to be receptive to other people’s attempts to network with you. As much as you hope to use your contacts to get ahead professionally, others will ask the same of you. When others feel your networking is a one-way street, you might find yourself out of luck as a recipient. Make sure you give as much as you get and pass along leads that you can’t use.

Stay on your professors’ radar.

Networking with your peers in college is a great first step, but don’t ignore the invaluable professional references your professors can provide. Often, professors are people who have workplace experience in their subject area or know professionals in the field. Keeping in touch with them puts another weapon in your job search arsenal.
The key to networking with college professors is to be memorable. Professors want all their students to do well, but most of them disappear after graduation. Be the kind of student who works hard in class to win their respect, asks for help when needed, and isn’t afraid to visit during office hours. Become a successful networker by requesting different types of letters of recommendation from them, writing thank you notes when they assist you, and occasionally sending emails to let them know how you’re doing.

Students who impress professors not only get career advice, but can also get specific advice about which companies or hiring managers to target. When a professor tells you to let the hiring manager know that she recommended you get in touch, that’s the sound of a previously closed door inching open because of your networking skills.