Professional Connections and Networking

Developing connections with professionals working in a particular field, faculty and staff who can mentor and guide you, and peers who can share their lived experiences navigating important career decisions can be game changers in career exploration and securing opportunities of interest. For many people, networking can seem overwhelming and stressful. Below, you will find strategies to consider to help make networking more comfortable and natural to navigate.

What is networking?

Building and maintaining productive relationships for employment, business, or personal benefit. Relationships are a two-way street and should add value to both parties involved. These connections can change and evolve over time and may offer guidance, mentorship, employment support, and/or employment opportunities.

Why should I network?

Networking can help you:Representatives from a creative agency speaking with school of education students

  • Explore career pathways and opportunities in a specific field
  • Identify key skills and experiences needed to break into and succeed in a particular field
  • Establish professional relationships that you may call upon to help you
  • Gain job leads (uncover the “hidden job market”)
  • Understand trends or growth areas in your area of work
  • Learn interview skills without the pressure of an actual interview
  • Gain organization-specific insights for a cover letter that will make a positive impression
  • Continue to grow and evolve throughout your career with a support team around you
  • And more…

Who should I network with? - Existing connections

We all have people in our personal or community-based network who can help us learn and support us.
Examples of people we may consider connecting with include:

UW Community​ Family & Friends​ Extended Community Work​
Advisors, faculty/instructors Parents​/Guardians Teachers, coaches, or mentors Supervisors​ or leaders
Classmates Siblings​ Religious or other affinity group members Co-workers​
Wisconsin alumni Extended family Chamber of Commerce ​Potential future employers
Student organizations Friends of the family Social media connections​ Professional associations

Who should I network with? - New connections

linkedIn logo


LinkedIn is a great tool for facilitating professional connections and staying connected with people in your professional networks. Use the advanced filters to search for connections affiliated with UW–Madison, the School of Education, or other communities of which you are a member. Creating a professional profile is important to navigating LinkedIn.

UW Alumni

The Wisconsin Alumni Association is where Badgers belong. It’s the place for you to continue to engage with the university and other alumni and friends and enhance your Wisconsin Experience.

Icon of circles connected with lines

Field-specific professional associations

Many fields have professional associations with member benefits which includes access to a professional network. Connect with faculty and instructors for more details related to your field of interest.

How do I prepare to begin networking?

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Step One: Define your goals

Knowing what you want to get out of your networking experience can help you be more successful and, hopefully, feel more comfortable.

  • What are you hoping to accomplish through networking? Name your goals.
  • Who would you like to connect with?
  • What events or engagement opportunities are being offered on or near campus? 
  • What is your timeline?
  • Is your resume prepared and ready to go? Have your resume reviewed. 

Step Two: Develop and prioritize a list of connections

Based on your goals, who are you most interested in connecting with? Remember to consider people you already know, perhaps in a different capacity, and new connections.

  • Create a contact management system in Excel 
  • Identify by name, title, field, or specific organization who you wish to connect with
  • Prioritize that list of contacts into levels A (most important), B (important) and C (nice to have)
  • Starting with your A-level contacts, begin to learn about them via LinkedIn, their organization’s website, or features in the news
  • Record notes about what you learn to keep information organized and top-of-mind

Step Three: Manage your online presence

Taking ownership of your personal presence as you prepare to build connections is important. This will help you convey who you are through online and virtual tools. 

Social media: make sure that profiles are fully built-out with the information you wish to convey. Review privacy and access settings to ensure that the audience you intend to review your profile/content aligns with your goals. Click on this LinkedIn resource guide to ensure your profile is properly structured.

Web: perform a search for your name to see what results show up. If you see content (such as photos or other feeds) that you do not want to have populated at the top of a search engine request, toggle your social media settings for enhanced privacy.

Email: create a professional email signature so that email correspondence you send (ideally via your Wisc email address) is appropriate for networking or job search purposes. 

First & Last Name
     UW-Madison | Class of 202X
     Email | Phone

Voicemail: ensure that the greeting on your voicemail is professional in nature and conducive to an employer or professional connection hearing it.

Step Four: Build your professional network through informational interviews and/or events

Informational interviews help you learn firsthand about a person or chosen field by asking questions about day-to-day work in the field, organizational culture, and educational background/skills. The student is the driver of this conversation, so in many ways it acts as a reverse interview.

Once you know who you wish to connect with:

  • Draft an email to introduce yourself and request a time to meet. This can include a copy of your resume so they can get a feel for your background and experiences. Once they have confirmed their interest in speaking with you, coordinate logistics and send a calendar hold via Outlook. If they don’t respond, give one week prior to following up with a similar outreach. If after the second outreach you don’t hear back, it’s time to move on to another contact.

Sample: Outreach to a person you are referred to or know

Sample: Outreach to a person you do not yet know

      • Conduct additional research on the individual’s experience and background .
      • Prepare questions to pose during the conversation. 

List of questions to get you started

    • Send an email confirming the conversation 24 hours prior and share your eagerness to meet. Share your resume if you have not already done so.
  • Engage in a two-way dialogue
    • Flow of conversation: 
      • Introduce yourself
      • Engage in breaking the ice (small talk)
      • Share your goals for the conversation
      • Navigate through your questions being open to letting the conversation flow
      • Show appreciate for the time, reflect back key take-aways, and determine next step in your communication with them
    • Tips as you navigate the conversation
      • Build your credibility prior to asking for help; you are in the driver’s seat
      • Develop a genuine rapport and relationship rather than worrying about asking the perfect questions
      • Respect the planned time
      • Show gratitude if your contact offers to help. Follow-up promptly on referrals made, and keep them posted on your progress
      • Maintain confidentiality in what is shared
      • Remember to send a thank you message following the conversation to show your appreciation and outline any next steps

Sample “Thank You” Email

Step Five: Follow up and follow through

Stay connected and share updates with contacts. These individuals will want to stay informed about when you apply and how your outreach, application, or interview process progresses. Offer appreciation for support provided along the way, and remember to identify ways that you can offer your support in return.

Connectors, Career Fairs & Networking Events

Attending networking events to build connections and learn about your options is still a great opportunity.

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Before the Event

  • Research attending organizations: determine who you want to prioritize talking with and can investigate the experiences they hire for.
  • Print copies of your resume: you can meet with a career advisor beforehand to work on this document.
  • Dress to impress: pick out a “business casual” outfit to wear to the event. While the definition of business casual can vary across organizations, it can be broadly defined as a style of dress that blends traditional aspects of business wear (button-down shirts, blouses) with a more relaxed style (dark pants, knee-length skirts).
  • Create and practice an elevator pitch: prepare a quick summary of yourself and your goals. It is named for the time it should take to deliver it (roughly 30 to 60 seconds or 75 words). 
  • Elevator pitch framework:
    • Personal information (name, major, year, interest)
    • Why you are here and what you are seeking
    • Highlight your experiences/skills gained and how that applies to your interests
    • Reference the experience you are interested in pursuing and something you learned about the organization that interests you
    • Ask an open-ended question

During the Event

Remember, organizations are here because they want to meet you!

  • Get a feel for the room: take a moment to walk around to ground yourself in the environment.
  • Introduce yourself: include your name, major, year in school and why you’re interested in speaking with them.
  • Listen for the other person’s name: use it when you’re speaking with them — it will help you remember their name in addition to showing you are actively listening.
  • Show interest by asking questions:
    • I see that you hire for XYZ position. What are the most important skills or experiences you seek in qualified applicants for this role?
    • Does your company hire on a continual basis or just at certain times of the year?
    • What is your organization’s culture like?
    • What does your hiring process consist of?
    • Be prepared to answer questions, like, “What are you here for today?” Preparing in advance allows you to quickly share your strengths, experiences, and goals.
  • Network with other students as you go: they may know of relevant opportunities you haven’t heard of yet.
  • Take a break if you are feeling overwhelmed: give yourself some time to get re-organized and return with renewed energy.

After the Event

  • Keep your contact informed: share updates on your application status and ask to be connected to additional individuals who work closely with this position.
  • Follow-up with contacts: show appreciation and schedule a follow-up conversation. Utilize this conversation to ask deeper questions that can inform a strong application.