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If you’re like most aspiring, career-minded professionals, you’ve learned early on just how important it is to build professional relationships not just after you complete a degree, but while you’re actively learning. In a typical college setting, this may seem easier to do than it does for students using online learning. But it’s just as important for online learners to build these relationships. The good news is, it can be just as do-able as on-campus learners.

Begin with Teachers

A good place to start is with your instructors. Online interactions with professors can be an outstanding place to open the door to new employment opportunities, too. The key is to use the virtual classroom to your advantage.

For example, to build a strong interaction with teachers, engage in conversations — start them, even. Being an active participant in a virtual classroom is essential. In fact, it’s what teachers are looking and hoping for. Though it may be easier to fade into the background in such environments, those who embrace interactive opportunities are going to get the most out of the educational process. This includes creating opportunities through teacher-led introductions and conversations.

Make Sure People Know Who You Are

Value the unique opportunity that is the virtual classroom. In a typical college classroom, you have people sitting next to you who are from the local area. But, online, your classmates include people from all types of career paths, backgrounds, and locations. By embracing this and introducing yourself to those who are in your classroom, you open the door for opportunities.

Discussion boards may be the best place to do this. Sharing your name and location is all it takes to open the conversation. Then, be the student that starts conversations. You want your classmates to view you as a peer and someone to reach out to.

Start Valuable Conversations

No matter what you may be learning, the online classroom is the ideal place to build relationships through conversations. And, when you do, you learn more. For example, you may want to share resources with peers in the classroom setting. Or, you may want to ask questions about the class’s topic.

Being active and a conversation starter, you become more of the leader in this setting. This allows you to learn more about other people. This is also going to open the door to more professional connections over time. The key here is to create valuable discussions, those that people get involved in and appreciate.

Ask Your Instructors Questions

One of the key ways to embrace the online learning environment is to see it for what it is — a conversationally rich location for gathering insight and information. It is the place to go to develop your education and background, but it’s also valuable from the standpoint of growing relationships. Imagine being in a large room with a number of people in your industry of choice who you know and respect. You want to talk to them, and you know it could mean opportunities for you to grow your professional network.

How do you do it? You ask questions. You start conversations with a question about a topic that interests you and the other party. The same is true here. Build relationships like this within the discussion forums, but also with the teacher and others who participate in the classroom.

Use Tech to Help You

Written names can only provide so much of a networking opportunity. Be open to using tools such as video conferencing and Skype. These tools allow you to create more important and valuable connections in some cases. Host a meeting like this with a counselor or industry professional you’ve met.

Build a Professional Online Presence

Once you begin to network and build relationships online, you need to be sure those seeking information about you can find value. First, start by being present on LinkedIn and other professional social media sites affiliated with your industry. Create profiles there. Use professional photos and interesting content. In short, you want people to see you are passionate about your professional career choice.

In general, LinkedIn is the most helpful of the social media platforms for professional networking. Even as a student, you’ll want to take full advantage of this platform. Here’s how:

  • Fill out your accomplishments section with valuable, accurate information about yourself.
  • Add work experience to the profile. You can also include any affiliated student work you complete.
  • Add links to your profile on other sites. Company blogs, for example, are ideal for those who are in graduate programs.
  • Use keywords related to your career path goals in your profile. Be sure to add information about what your goals are.
  • Write posts and share them with your community. This is important — it helps people to see what you can bring to the table that’s value and unique.
  • Stay engaged. Keep your profile up to date and filled with interesting information others in the industry want to read.

Chances are good you will find other communities online to build a presence specific to your industry. Be sure to turn to your college’s platforms, too. The key here is to work to be present online.

Follow Up Often

When you get an opportunity to chat with someone in the industry or to connect with your counselor or teacher, use it as an opportunity to follow up. For example, you may ask a question initially to open the conversation. Then, follow up with what you’ve learned or found later. This opens the door for a new connection to occur.

Taking these steps and embracing them can help you build a strong presence online within your desired area of focus. And, in an online learning environment, this is critical to building the type of professional network you need. More so, see the value that virtual classrooms offer including access to people from around the world in the field you are most interested in. Face-to-face networking can be valuable, but learning online doesn’t limit your connection opportunities.

The first step toward networking as an online student is to become an online student. At Post University we offer a number of online (and on-campus) programs designed to help you get ahead in your career and in your life. If you’d like to learn more, please contact us.