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Internships and the Importance of Networking

By Genevieve Balivet

On October 19, the Organization for Professional Writers (OPW) hosted the Writing Department’s annual Internship Info session for writing majors and minors. The speakers included the internship coordinator, Dr. Dauvan Mulally; the associate director of the career center, Lisa Knapp; and two students, Angelina Firmalan and Elise Eurich. Networking was a constant theme during the discussion. Here are three main tips that the speakers emphasized:

1. Networking can begin at the personal level.

Networking can be intimidating, especially for people who are just starting. The good news is that it doesn’t necessarily have to begin in the workplace–it can actually start within your social circles. Family, friends, and people in student organizations and extracurriculars are all people you can network with. And they can lead to great results. Many students in the Grand Valley Writing program have also gotten internships through friends. Angelina got an internship from networking with family. She encouraged students to talk about their career interests with people in these communities. That can help spark possible ideas or even lead to an opportunity.

Another way to develop network skills is to build connections in your classes. I had a professor who encouraged us to chat with our peers because we would be each other’s future colleagues. The small talk we made before class was a form of networking. Professors are also a great way to expand your network since they are connected with professionals in the field. For instance, Elise explained how she got her internship through one of her professors. She recommended that students try it. If professors know you well, they can help get you connected to people and opportunities to help you shine.

2. Networking reveals hidden opportunities.

We don’t just network to meet our colleagues, but also to share information with each other. One of the benefits is finding opportunities that we might not know about otherwise. Although many internships and jobs are posted online, they are only a small proportion of existing positions. According to Lisa Knapp, about 75% of openings are not posted online. Instead, they may be circulated through print or physical advertisements or even kept within the company. At that point, it’s about who we know, not what we know; networking helps us find those more hidden opportunities. 

The two student speakers got their internships through networking. They encouraged their peers to be open about their search for a job or internship. Talking with your peers, professors, family, friends, and your professional network was the main message. Communicate what you are looking for, and don’t be afraid to ask if people know about any possibilities. A network is there for that reason, and most people are happy to offer suggestions.

3. Networking takes time.

Building a network doesn’t happen overnight. It requires experience and effort. Over time, we gain more professional experience through entry-level jobs, volunteer work, and internships. While some of those experiences may seem trivial, each one has value. Think of them as opportunities to expand your network in anticipation of the future. During her internship, Elise forged connections beyond her field by speaking with her fellow interns. Though she was only in that position for a limited time, she took the chance to network and made it matter for her future career.

It is worth remembering that networking takes effort. To build a network, we have to invest at least some time in talking to people, whether face-to-face, through email, or via LinkedIn. The good news is it does not require long consecutive hours of conversation. Networking is a series of small interactions: checking in with people, sharing what you’re doing, and getting to know them, bit by bit. An easy way to get started is by creating a LinkedIn profile and adding everyone you know. It is also an easy way to get a better idea of the culture in your field and to get involved in current conversations. The simple act of liking a post can remind people of your connection with them and show that you care.

So yes, networking may seem difficult and even intimidating but really, at its core, it is just about building relationships. Consider networking as a way to get to know others and to share your passions and interests with them. In this sense, networking is about becoming part of a community of people. And it is not as difficult as people make it sound. It can be as easy as the click of a button or a conversation with a classmate.

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