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As a college student, sometimes a power dynamic can be felt when working alongside professionals during an internship or summer job: they have loads of professional experience and, well, you may not have much. Although it may feel like there’s a divide not just in experience but also in age and background, as an intern, it’s important to recognize that your colleagues–no matter how temporary–want to make connections with you just as much as you want to connect with them.
A lot of the time, we focus on networking and building connections as a prerequisite to securing an internship or job offer. But what tends to be forgotten is the practice of networking during summer internships.
Not only can these relationships enhance your work experience, but they are an opportunity to begin to build your network of working world professionals before you even graduate: this can include your supervisor, fellow interns, direct team members, or colleagues from different departments.
Finding organic ways to connect in the workplace
Where should you start? Who should you start with? How should you ask?
Megan Elliot, one of our Hub Coaches, suggests students begin with their supervisors.
“If a student has a relationship with their supervisor where they feel comfortable to bounce ideas around with or engage in larger scale conversations, like professional development or goals, I think they can be a good advocate to lean on during your internship. And their supervisors can also help them connect with other people in the organization.”
After involving your supervisor and letting them know your objectives, they can make suggestions or initiate those conversations.
"Your colleagues–no matter how temporary–want to make connections with you just as much as you want to connect with them."
Alyssa Hurd, a rising fourth year majoring in Psychology and minoring in Business, interns this summer at Opendoor, a real estate tech company.
“If you're at an internship this summer, start by looking through your company directory and just find people that have interesting jobs or work in a department you’re interested in. For me specifically, I looked at employees on the people team because I know that that's where I wanted to work.”
Additionally, be cognizant of day-to-day tasks where you interact with other employees. These can be great opportunities to form an initial connection. Alyssa has connected with professionals on her team.
“I found people to talk to by being on projects with them or sitting in a meeting with them. I'd just slack them afterwards and be like, ‘Hey, I'm interested in what you do. I'd really love to sit down for fifteen minutes and chat with you about your job.’”
If you are nervous about cold emailing or cold slacking other professionals, you can find natural ways of connections like through your supervisor or working on a project. Both options are a perfect segue to asking to chat and get to know each other better.
Approaching professionals is easier than you think
“It's scary at first [connecting with others] for no reason. It's so funny because I've done networking and I'm a huge believer in networking, so I do it all the time, but I still get some butterflies when I'm typing out the LinkedIn message or the Slack message. But I remind myself that if they say ‘no’, that's the worst case scenario. When you think about it, all they can do is say ‘no’, and then you just go on to the next person.”
Typically, employees want to talk to and get to know their interns: if the interns are willing to put in the effort to reach out.
Megan advises students: “Most people like to talk about their own experience and to help people, which helps to mitigate some of those anxious feelings. One thing that would be helpful is putting yourself in the shoes of that person. If you fast forward 10 years and an LSA student reached out to you and asked for support, how would you react? Most people would be willing to help, especially somebody who's interested in entering a career that you currently have experience in.”
"Be cognizant of day-to-day tasks where you interact with other employees - these can be great opportunities to form an initial connection."
LSA Connect can help remove a lot of the guesswork out of reaching out to an alum. Not only are the personalized recommended profiles helpful with finding alum aligned with your career goals, but it makes reaching out to them a breeze. With pre-built introductory messages to choose from when reaching out to alum, the automated process allows students to focus on who they want to connect with and why: not as much their anxieties about what to say.
After reaching out, you’ll want to draft some questions to ask: be sure to look through the Hub’s guide to informational interviews with example questions and ideas of what research to do prior to connecting. If you’re an informational interview novice, feel free to schedule an appointment with a Hub coach to review a list read through questions or create some together.
Respect and authenticity: two key parts of showing up to an informational interviews
As the definition of professionalism ebbs and flows with workplace and societal norms, it can feel inauthentic and robotic at times to put on some façade of professionalism. Megan emphasizes the power of students showing up as themselves.
“I think it’s important with informational interviews to make sure that you're showing up as yourself, because it will really help you build an authentic connection with a working professional who was once in your shoes once.”
During informational interviews, it is important to be respectful — no slouching, no texting during the conversation, etc. — but informational interviews should be seen as a more casual coffee chat with someone you want to glean information from about their professional life.
A benefit of this authentic approach to networking can be that you receive more candid explanations and experiences from an industry insider as well as gaining confidence and experience for that next interaction.
Utilizing LSA Connect to build your network
Regardless if you have an established summer internship with professionals to connect with, the summer is a great time to begin to expand your network without a full load of classes and student organizations commitments vying for your time.
There are many networking platforms to utilize, including LinkedIn, but LSA Connect can set up LSA undergrads with the tools and resources to start this process effortlessly.
"The summer is a great time to begin to expand your network without a full load of classes and student organizations commitments vying for your time."
“There are so many opportunities on LSA Connect to find alums who align with areas you're interested in exploring or areas you know you want to pursue. It’s important to identify what your goals are for connecting because then on LSA Connect you can use search filters that align with your goals,” Megan shares.
The Hub’s network tracking guide facilitates this goal setting process and is a great place to begin building your network this summer.
Let’s say you want to explore different career options within your major: start by reaching out to different alum who share your major with you but are in different industries or locations. LSA Connect makes this process easy with community filters that range from shared identities to majors to location.
Mentors and mentees on LSA Connect all have one thing in common — they are U-M LSA grads — so you already have shared experience and a common denominator that bonds you.
Alyssa advises, “My LSA Connect conversations are a little bit more focused on the Michigan experience. I tend to reach out to people on LSA connect because of the company that they're at or the role that they have. Then my questions are a little bit more focused on their university experience, because I know we have that in common.”