Networking Strategies for Graduate Students

Networking as a graduate student can seem intimidating, there is often a lot of pressure to find the right job. Much like networking after undergrad there are lots of things you can do to get your name out there and build your network. Below are 9 strategies to network as a graduate student:

  1. Connections through professors, supervisors, and mentors

Many of these individuals know others in the field and can connect you. They may be able to do an informal introduction or recommend you for a job that is posted. Make sure to express your career goals to these individuals so they can keep you in mind for jobs that they hear about.


  1. Seek out and attend professional development events

Events such as conferences and trainings are a great place to meet people in the field. Make sure you sit next to new people, introduce yourself to others in between sessions, and always be ready with your elevator pitch and questions! If you have the opportunity to present a poster or facilitate a session, those are also excellent ways to get your name out there and make connections.


  1. Join an industry association or professional groups:

Many member-based groups welcome student involvement and attendance at their events. Some even offer discounted memberships and organized mentoring and leadership development programs to students. Consider these associations as very fertile ground to cultivate your professional network for the present and the future. In-person networking garners huge benefits and moves relationships forward much faster than a solely online effort.


  1. Conduct informational interviews

Conduct informational interviews with professionals at your target organizations to get tips and advice for landing a position within the organization.


  1. Have a presence online to help build your network

Professionals utilize online tools and communities to develop and  solidify their business networks. LinkedIn is an example of a widely-accepted professional networking site. It is meant to increase your exposure rapidly and is easy to use for researching meaningful connections. Companies also use social media as a way to find out more about job applicants. A few keys to getting started; Clean up your existing social media to include only pictures and posts that promote your professional brand. This goes for all social media you are involved with, not just the site on which you are actively networking. And, proactively connect with others. You can start by looking for people who attended your high school and college. Include alumnae as well as individuals you already know.


  1. Develop a list of 10-20 target employers that match your passions and skill sets

Monitor their job sites weekly and follow these organizations on social media to watch for news and job postings. Search for contacts and companies that make sense for your desired route. Conduct a search by company name, industry, title, etc. On LinkedIn, most industries list multiple groups that you can join as well, helping to target your efforts in a more precise direction and to a smaller online group.


  1. Attend career fairs and other networking events

Have a goal in mind when attending a networking event. Some example goals are; Get business cards from 5 new contacts, talk to 3 different companies about your career interests, or find something in common with every person you speak with. This way you can go in with a plan rather than feeling overwhelmed by the need to network.


  1. Use Pioneer Careers to identify jobs you’re interested in

There are many job postings throughout the year so keep an eye on those sites. You can also schedule a meeting with your career advisor to talk about your career goals. Then, if they see a post that aligns with your goals they can send it to you.


  1. Be sure to tell EVERYONE in your network that you are searching for a job!

Let them know your ideal job and ideal organization type. Your network includes faculty, classmates, friends, former supervisors, colleagues and relatives, even if those individuals are not in your field. People in your existing network will often help you uncover great job leads and contacts.


Whatever way works best for you to network, go do it! It is never to early to start networking. Even the little things, like linked in, can potentially lead to a job. Even if you do not feel fully prepared, start the process today! It is better to do something than wait till the chaos of finals and graduation to network and search for a job. Your future self will thank you!




In order to take advantage of these networking strategies there are some things you should do to prepare:

  • Update your resume
    • Make sure that all of your graduate experiences are listed on your resume. Potentially add class, projects, or presentations you have done during your schooling. If you ever want your resume reviewed, the career counselors at DU are happy to meet with you and give you feedback!
  • Practice your elevator pitch
    • An elevator pitch needs to be brief but should give a good overview of who you are, what you want to do, and why it matters. Some strategies are to use a story as an example, use action packed words, and use relevant examples to the job you want. Make sure that you practice so that you can be confident when you have to say the pitch to a stranger. It is always great if you can end by connecting your experience and goals to the industry or individual you are talking to. Elevator pitches can be used at networking events, in informational interviews, follow ups after a quick introduction, or when you happen to meet someone who has connections to your industry!
  • Create questions for networking events
    • It is important to come prepared with some questions for any networking event. Make sure they relate to the field you want to work in, but here are a few examples of conversation starters:
      • Where do you work? What do you do there?
      • What did you study in college?
      • What advice do you have for someone like me trying to enter your field/industry?
      • Have you attended this conference/event before?
  • Have business cards
  • Create and promote your professional brand
    • Your professional brand can shine through your resume, LinkedIn profile, networking skills, your professional dress, and how well you interview. There is not one piece of your professional life that won’t benefit from maintaining a strong brand and professional image. Also, don’t forget the impact social media can have on your professional image. Below are some pieces of advice for creating your brand:
      • Differentiation– What are your strengths and how do you express them? Having different experiences that align with your goals and values strengthen your brand over other candidates.
      • Clarity– Be clear in how you dress, act, and speak; all of which should align with your who you are and your values. Expressing clarity through your actions helps establish a sense of trust among co-workers, employers, and other individuals to your professional life.
      • Authenticity– Being authentic also helps establish trust among the people you surround yourself with. Not being your true self and not having your behavior reflect your values, beliefs, and goals can create a contradicting image to your true self and your brand. If you are not your authentic self, the other pieces will not fall into place!
      • Consistency– Be consistent across the board with who you are and what your brand/ image is! This way, people will know what they can expect from you and your work ethic. When you are consistent with your message, your professional image and personal brand are at their peak!
    • Set clear career goals
      • At networking events, you will probably talk to company representatives about your career goals. Be clear about your short- and long-term career goals. By being clear about your skills and the position you are looking for, they can give you insights and advice on breaking into the industry.
    • Follow up
      • Make notes on the back of business cards you collect immediately after an event. Write down what you talked about or how you can remember them. After a big event create a spreadsheet to keep track of everyone’s name, company, date, and what you talked about. If you made a good connection, follow up with an email and/or connect with them on LinkedIn.


[Author’s note: Parts of this blog were originally published in “Top Ways DU Grads Find Jobs”- November, 2015, “How to Cultivate a Bountiful Professional Network”- December, 2015, and “I Need a Professional Brand to Graduate!?”- April, 2016 and has been updated for accuracy and clarity]

By Emma Spalding
Emma Spalding