Many people, especially students, think that a network is a collection of business cards. And we make the mistake of thinking only of ourselves. It's a common mistake everyone makes, but especially students, because they think they have nothing to offer, so all they can do is ask for help.
Use the following strategies to make your collection of business cards an active network:
1. PICK THE RIGHT PEOPLE. Concentrate on the people you really deem important. Know what you want to do. Then research events that seem really helpful to what that is. Before you go, find out who is attending and research those people. When you attend, you can single out the most important people first and actually spend time with them to have a conversation about THEM and THEIR company. Show interest in them. Give them a solution, not a sales pitch of yourself.
2. FOLLOW UP WITH SOMETHING HELPFUL. Don't just say: "Nice to meet you, let's stay in touch." Remind them of something important you were talking about to refresh their memory of who you are. Maybe you can offer them a solution to a problem you've talked about. Maybe you can even suggest a business venture. Maybe you have a blog that appeals to them, or you found an article that they might be interested in. Include it in the email.
3. CONSIDER THEM YOUR FRIENDS. And treat them that way. They are not a means to an end, they are a long-term relationship. Remember that long-term relationships have to be cultivated and you need practice selflessness in order for them to work. Those kinds of relationships aren't easy. But no one said that networking is easy.
4. ACTUALLY STAY IN TOUCH. Networking done right is diligent work. It's ok to ask your network for help, but don't make that the only time you contact people. Think of creating a "newsletter" of sorts. Depending on the importance of what you may have to say or share with your network, send out this newsletter every month, or every other month, but be somewhat consistent. Make it as personal as you can (as in: Don't just copy and paste the same thing to everyone, even if it doesn't apply to them), but don't make it about you (unless it's some huge news). Make it something that may help THEM.
5. OFFER YOUR HELP AND SHOW APPRECIATION. Who would have ever thought of that?! Send over a quick line stating that if they happen to look for some help, maybe with a current project, you'd love to help out. Or just say thank you. If they've helped you in the past, keep them updated of how their help has paid off. Make them feel appreciated.
6. KEEP EXPANDING YOUR NETWORK. Some friendships will end, some will crystallize to be your inner circle. Never stop hiring friends. Always carry your business card. Make it a point to talk to people every day, no matter where you're at. Be interested in everyone. Be interesting. If you don't run into someone important, at least you will have practiced your interpersonal skills.