How to Build Your Professional Network in an Online Classroom
Networking is, theoretically, one of the values of going to a traditional school. You see students in class every day, you form one-on-one relationships with your professors, and you make valuable contacts that could serve you well in your professional life. While it’s true that you can meet people during college who turn out to be valuable job contacts later, it can happen in online classrooms just as effectively as in traditional schools.
You may have to be a little more proactive about it in an accredited online college than in a traditional school, however. Here’s how.
See Also: Online Degree Programs
Put a lot of thought into your participation
Networking is all about building relationships. And to make professional connections with others, you’ll need to make them see you as someone they want to connect with. Whenever you get the chance to interact with others in online classes, put a lot of thought into it. Offer useful, insightful comments in class-related message boards. Always carry your share of the weight in group projects. The stronger your contribution in class, the more you’ll make a positive impression.
See Also: Online Courses
Use social media to connect
LinkedIn may be the best way to build a professional network—it allows you to write recommendations for people you’re connected to, and often these people will write recommendations for you in return. You can also connect on your Twitter, Facebook account and other social media sites you use regularly—but be sure you’re projecting a professional image in places where you connect with people from school.
Have a professionally-focused blog
Building up a blog presence that’s focused on your career can be a useful tool in building connections with students outside of the online classroom. Chances are, they’ll have similar interests and will be an ideal audience for what you write about. It can help build your professional credentials, as when you write about professional topics you showcase your knowledge. And it can give students a way to connect with you and learn more about you outside of the classroom.
Connect with professors
You can build a mentor relationship with professors in online classes as well as in traditional schools. After you’ve been in a class awhile, email your professors. Let them know about your career goals and ask them if they have any thoughts or advice to move forward. You never know—one of them could pass you on to a connection who could land you your next job.
Offer to help other
If you want others to want to help you, help them first. Offer to put people in your accredited online degree program in contact with others who could help their career. Provide advice if you can. Sometimes in online classes, you have to work extra hard to build connections—people will remember you if you’re always ready to provide others with the help you need.
Suggest meeting offline, when possible
Find out if anyone in your classes (or any of your professors) are based in your area. Suggest meeting for coffee to discuss the class, careers, or life in general. If you can turn an online classmate or professor into an in-person friend, they’ll be a more valuable connection for you—and you for them.
Building a strong professional network doesn’t have to be difficult—even if you’re going to school online. Take some time to connect with your classmates and teachers both online and off—using social media as well as your local coffee shop—and you should be able to build a network of people who can help you in your job search—and who you can help in theirs.
University of Minnesota: Social Networking
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