Deciding to return to graduate school is often a multi-faceted decision.
Some of us go back to re-feed our brains and because we just love to learn. Some of us go back in an effort to break into a higher pay bracket. And some of us go back to develop our skills or break into a new industry.
Regardless of why you decide to head back to school, it's crucial that you utilize your time there wisely. And that means networking.
Pretend like it's a class, or like you're getting paid to do it. It's that important.
Developing personal and professional relationships while you're in grad school can play a crucial role in determining where you end up after. Meaning, essentially, that it can help you land a job (so you can start paying off those lovely loans that tend to come with going back to school.)
Here are some tips to help you get started building your network:
Make friends. This might seem obvious, but remember, grad school is not like undergrad. You might be living in graduate student housing, but you're not surrounded by a bunch of 18 year olds anymore, eager to make friends with everyone they meet. A lot of people in your program might be married or working part time, making them a bit less social than they were back in the good ol' days.
So go out of your way to organize happy hours, study sessions or volunteer trips, and get to know your classmates. They will be your most solid network post-graduation, and could very well help you land your dream job after school.
Also, make friends with your professors. Your teachers in grad school are some of the top experts in their field. They have the life experience that makes them great educators and great mentors. Whether you're getting a more practical masters in something like business or marketing or getting your degree in a more theoretical field like philosophy or literature, your professors can help guide you through your next step. They can help you figure out where you fit in, and are also likely to be well connected, either in academia or the professional world.
Go to those fun awkward networking events. We know, they can be a bit of a hassle and generally pretty awkward (name tags, bad hors d'oeuvres, etc.) But if you have decent conversation skills, dust off your finest business casual attire and check out a few of your school's networking events.
The people there are actively taking the time to participate in this event, so they're likely to be interested in your experience and be on the lookout for possible job candidates. Just practice some good opening liners and ice breakers, and you're good to go.
Get to know alumni. Whether it's through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or your school's alumni office, get to know your former classmates. They will immediately have a connection to you and most likely have an interest in giving you a hand when it comes to the job search, since they were once in the same boat as you. Connect with alumni who have jobs you're interested in and keep in touch with them throughout your time in grad school. You never know where the relationship could lead.
Take an internship. Don't think that you're too old or too experienced for an internship (yes, even if it's unpaid.) You're most likely not in class all day, so what better way to spend your time (when you're not rigorously studying or avoiding undergrads) than getting on-the-job experience interning for a company or an organization in your industry?
A lot of graduate programs require an internship, and will offer school credit. But even if they don't, committing to something 2-3 days a week can help build your resume, strengthen your skill set, and help you develop a strong network within your field.