The Most Underrated Asset for Career Development: An Inside Look at the Benefits of Networking
Photo credits: Brooke Cagle
By Alejandra Cano
November 24th, 2021 at 8:00 P.M. EST.
As undergraduate students prepare to enter the professional world, they are encouraged to maintain an exceptional grade point average in order to secure job interviews and important leadership positions. However, as I think about entering the professional world, I realize a high-grade point average will not open doors nor help me prepare for job interviews; networking will. After all, there’s a famous African proverb that states, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others.” Undergraduate students should focus on expanding their professional network rather than solely achieving a perfect grade point average. Therefore, the professional network of undergraduate students outweighs their grade point average because networking allows students to gain insight into their future careers, grants access to unique job opportunities and builds invaluable interpersonal skills.
It is no surprise many students struggle to choose a career path during their undergraduate degree since they are not exposed to the right opportunities or mentors. For some time, I felt this way. I find that many of my peers, including myself, strive to take the most challenging courses without knowing their ultimate career goals or ambitions. As a result, many students feel unfulfilled or stuck, lacking passion for nurturing their potential success in a field they know nothing about. This is where networking shows its value. In Ellis Chase’s article “The Forgotten Benefits of Networking,” she stresses the importance of networking and how a successful career entails “people who provide you with information, connect you to others, help you get your job done, advocate for you, mentor, guide, and sponsor you.” In other words, networking exposes students to important people, whether it be in their anticipated career or not, and establishes pivotal relationships that will later sprout into beneficial opportunities. For instance, this past summer, I was able to conduct research and investigate the biomass and carbon sequestration in different tree species. From this experience, I’ve been able to collaborate and establish long-lasting connections with peers and mentors within my anticipated STEM field. Moreover, I was able to learn invaluable laboratory techniques and interpersonal skills.
The uniqueness of proper networking also promises the opening of new opportunities and job positions that a grade point average can not guarantee and expose you to. Although extremely underrated, in today’s world networking is a basic need for all professionals. Students are stumped when it comes to finding a job or internship as their undergraduate degree comes to an end because their college curriculum can only take them so far. In order to properly secure a job or research position, students need to expand their network and contact people within their field of interest. A great resource to start connecting with students and professionals within one’s prospective field is LinkedIn. At the start of my first fall semester in college, I was advised by a professor to create an account and start adding my credentials to be able to start connecting with more people. As a result, I’ve been able to initiate professional relationships and meet a handful of professionals and students that have provided valuable insight. Albeit this is in no way supposed to encourage students to forget about their studies and forget about maintaining a high-grade point average. Rather, the most important advantages of establishing a broad network of peers and mentors are guiding and providing students like myself with a solid and successful structure for their careers. Moreover, as shown in “Learn to Love Networking” by Casciaro, Gino, and Kouchaki, “a mountain of research shows that professional networks lead to more job opportunities, broader and deeper knowledge, improved capacity to innovate, faster advancement, and greater status and authority”
Another key component of networking is the invaluable interpersonal skills that students learn as they expand their network; something a grade point average can not offer. For a long time, I felt that networking was a forced interaction that made me come off as conceited and deceptive as I tried to pitch for myself and ultimately, my future. I soon realized that this mentality is what hinders students from forming professional relationships that will provide substantial opportunities and knowledge in the future. According to the article “Learn to Love Networking,” there are two types of approaches to networking: promotion-focused and prevention-focused. While promotion-focused people approach networking with “excitement, curiosity, and an open mind,” prevention-focused people see networking as “a necessary evil” and feel “inauthentic while engaged in it.” As a result, the way people, particularly students, view networking affects their interpersonal skills. With a good and open mindset, students will achieve effective conversational skills that may lead them to greater success. Although a student's grade point average is important and highlights their academic resilience, it will not advocate for their collaborative and interpersonal skills.
When it comes to networking, students have the advantage to learn and grow as they immerse themselves in their future careers. Students will nurture important and long-lasting relationships that will serve them as a precedent for their future. The stigma among undergraduate students about networking obscures the great potential and achievements students can achieve. When it comes to advocating for the professional endeavors of undergraduate students, networking is the most underrated asset for career development because it will provide real insight into their future careers and develop beneficial relationships that may help them succeed in the future. After all, Chase states that “a piece of paper can’t talk; you can.”
Alejandra Cano is a passionate Honors College student at Miami Dade College pursuing her undergraduate associate's degree in biology. Alejandra is Florida Bright Futures Scholar, an Honors Fellow Scholar, and is on the Dean’s List. Alejandra is also the secretary of the Beta Beta Beta Biological Honors Society, is one of the layout designers for the award-winning Urbana Literary and Arts Magazine, and is currently working on the magazine’s fifteenth edition. Alejandra is also a committed Peer-Lead Team Learner (PLTL) tutor for Organic Chemistry I and is the Co-Founder of the Nicaraguan Interactive Bilingual Reading Program. Alejandra was selected to participate in the Global Solutions Conversation Program, an initiative from the State Department and the Stevens Institute, this fall 2021 semester. Alejandra also conducted research at Saint Thomas University over the summer of ‘21 and investigated different allometric equations to calculate the biomass and carbon sequestration of different tree species.