4 non-sleazy networking tips for university students

by Feb 16, 2023

I looked out of the hotel window. All I could see was an empty parking lot… and a gigantic Walmart sign.

There I was — an 18-year-old Malaysian boy who’d never traveled outside of Asia — spending a night at a local hotel, before heading off to start my undergrad degree at university the next day.

It took me a year to get used to Canadian beer and winter (beer was the easy one, obviously). To add to the challenge, I was socially anxious, which means that building friendships felt like climbing Mount Everest.

So how did I go from being socially anxious to building relationships with some of the best Canadian leaders and entrepreneurs, like Teach For Canada’s co-founder?

There’s no magic bullet, but here are a few networking tips that I’ve tried that worked for me (and more importantly, they are NOT sleazy): 

1. Connect with alumni via LinkedIn

While you could bump into alumni at university events, I generally prefer cold messaging alumni on LinkedIn first. Why? This is less daunting than chatting in person, and you can be very intentional about who you want to get to know.

Your first message can be as simple as “Hi! Saw that you graduated from [university name]. This is my second year at the university, and I’d love to connect…” (I’d also recommend mentioning something specific that you liked about their profile.)

From there, engage with their content so that they see you as a familiar name. And once there’s enough rapport, ask if they’re interested in connecting 1-on-1, whether it’s over the phone or in person. 

2. Grab coffee with university staff

When I started doing this in my second year, I realized that I was the odd one out — it was uncommon for students to chat with staff (or maybe I was procrastinating on my assignments…).

In any case, what I’ve learned is that staff are gold mines of university and career advice. Why? A) They are at the intersection of academia and business, which gives them a unique perspective, B) They are likely to be university alumni themselves!

You could add them on LinkedIn as I mentioned above, or you could email them (just check the staff directory). If you’re going with email, be specific about why you’re reaching out, since they are typically busy folks. But how? Here’s my favorite way…

3. Ask for advice

As a student, you have a secret advantage. When you’re at the very start of your career journey, people are much more likely to be helpful — we’ve all been lost students at one point in time 🙂 

Asking for advice — especially from someone you don’t really know — can be uncomfortable. Here’s one way to make it easier: just ask them about how they overcame their career or business challenges, and notice what they did that you could do too.

4. Start a personal project

If there’s one thing I’d recommend, this is it. This was how I got featured in CBC, Canadian Geographic, Inc. Magazine, and other media outlets, leading to multiple career opportunities as well as relationships.

By starting a personal project, you’re creating a powerful “relationship magnet” — something that gets others interested in you without you even asking.

I started a street journalism project back then, but the possibilities are endless for you. To brainstorm project ideas, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What’s something I’m curious or passionate about?
  • How can I share this with the world?
  • Why should other people be interested in this too?


With these tips, you can connect with a wide audience of people. Before you know it, networking will come easy to you. 


Featured image courtesy of Pexels

Ian Chew

Ian Chew

Founder of Deeper Conversations

Ian Chew is the founder of Deeper Conversations. Despite his social anxiety, he’s had conversations with over 10,000 people, and he’s been featured by top media outlets like CBC, Inc. Magazine, and TEDx. As a copywriter, he’s worked with top communicators like Eben Pagan, Michael Simmons, and Amir Ahmad Nasr to help them reach tens of millions of people.