I learned a lot in my first two years in the University of Minnesota's design program, but a skill that has been the most helpful by far was learning how to network with other professionals in the design program. Networking with professionals in the design field helped me to find where to focus my design interests and has given me inspiration to push myself to get where I want to be after school. Reaching out and asking questions to a stranger can seem really intimidating at first, but it's something that gets significantly easier the more you do it. It is estimated that at least 60% of jobs are found via referrals due to networking, so it is important to start meeting and greeting as early as possible! Here are some tips to get started with building relationships with design professionals as soon as you can.
1) Get on Twitter
Okay wait, Twitter? That's professional networking? Well... sort of. While you may not be directly talking to professionals, most Twitter users allow others to follow them without permission. This means you can follow design firms, agencies, and local or worldwide design professionals and see what they are up to. Producing insightful tweets and even mentioning a firm or professional in a tweet when appropriate could net you a follow from them. Designers love Twitter, and often look to a fellow Twitter user's profile to find out more about them. This is where I want to emphasize having a professionalTwitter account. If you already have one where you blab random stuff to your friends, make a second account with a simple username (e.g. your name) that doesn't link back to your other account.
2) Go to Events
Design events are one of the easiest venues in which to strike up a chat with another design professional. If the professional is speaking at event, you can be almost 100% certain that they will take some time to talk to attendees after their presentation. There are a huge number of great design events happening all the time in the Twin Cities, but the College of Design holds a lot of great events two. Check out Design in 7 and Dirty Laundry and keep and eye on your email for invitations for design firm tours.
3) Meet with professionals
Believe it or not - if you ask nicely, most professionals will be completely enthusiastic about meeting at a coffee shop or letting you come into their place of work so you can take a look around and ask them some questions. Design pros were once in the same shoes as you, and the majority of them are completely willing to give you some advice.
If you are interested in learning more about networking as well as building a design resume, portfolio and more, I highly recommend taking the optional, 1 credit Career and Internship class offered by the College of Design as soon as your schedule allows. The class is only half a semester long but has easily been the most helpful class I have taken in my college career. Really though, I'm not just saying that. Take it!