Teacher's Pet: Networking With Professors

Posted by Jeff Ousborne on June 15, 2011
Teacher's Pet: Networking With Professors

Professors are among the most crucial career resources a student can cultivate. An introduction to a future employer is only the beginning. Professors can provide good insight on everything from starting a business to solving problems at work. But they can't-and won't-go the extra mile for everyone. So how best to distinguish oneself? How to develop a lasting relationship? And thorniest of all, how to do so without shamelessly sucking up, a strategy that will likely backfire not to mention shrivel your soul?

Fork Over the Insights

Got a few pearls of wisdom on niche marketing from your brand-management internship? Share it in class. Professors have a near-bottomless appetite for real-world anecdotes. This reflects a key principle for establishing a good relationship with a professor: You scratch his back, he'll scratch yours. A few words about the anecdotes themselves: Keep them relevant (gratuitously dropping the name of the firm where you interned is obnoxious), and don't offer a story for every occasion (nobody likes a know-it-all).

Bob and Weave
Professors are professional intellectuals, which means they welcome a good debate. Seth Goldman, a 1995 graduate of the Yale School of Management, regularly challenged the thinking of his competitive-strategy professor, Barry Nalebuff. "The habit," Goldman says, "made a lasting impression. He liked that I turned the table and it paid big dividends." Ten years after Goldman graduated, he wanted to start his own soft-drink business, so he contacted his former teacher for advice. The two wound up going into business together, and today Honest Tea is a $47 million brand.

Stop By
If it weren't for all the other students lined up outside her door, a professor's office hours might seem like the perfect time to establish a connection. Thus, these tips: Arrive before the throngs-she'll be more focused on you. Ask questions rather than demand answers. And if you want career-related advice during office hours, cut to the chase-don't pretend you're there to discuss your research project.

Upsize Your Relationship
If you want to be a teaching assistant, you should approach the professor on the first day of class, right? Wrong. Get to him a week before classes start. Even if the professor can't use you that term, he'll certainly remember your enthusiasm, which could win you the post the next time around. Regular contact with a good instructor is the obvious attraction of being a TA; the bonus is that a bond often develops when two people work together to evaluate other students' work.

Know Your Target
Not interested in doing research or being a TA? Simply providing a newspaper clipping pertinent to a professor's research, class discussions, or even personal interests can set one student apart from the rest. If nothing else, a prof will be impressed you took the time to share something as an intellectual peer.

This article is from the fall 2010 issue of Jungle Campus.

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