Q. When is it appropriate to start networking outside my department?

A. The short answer is when your intern supervisor or department head says so. The long answer gives you more leeway to build your network on your own timetable and in your own style. Here are some points to ponder:

  1. After your first week has successfully passed, ask your intern supervisor about the best way to meet people in other departments. Explain that you’d like to have a better understanding of how the business works as a whole. In response the intern supervisor may escort you around to the other departments, introducing you to various members, who might offer to discuss their work with you.
  2. When you’re sure that your department head likes your work, follow up by asking him/her if it’s permissible to visit other departments to learn what they do, especially departments that interface with yours. Then, the department head may take you to other departments and ask them to spend some time with you, so you can learn more about the operation.
  3. If your department holds daily or weekly meetings, ask if you can attend. Or if your department head and intern supervisor belong to professional meetings that welcome students, ask if you can go to a meeting with them. Be prepared to pay for lunch though most department heads or intern supervisors will pick up the tab. Professional meetings are great places to network for future internships.
  4. Another way to stimulate networking outside of your department is to develop a school assignment that requires you to interview employees in different departments. If you’re earning academic credit, you may indeed have to produce a paper researching some aspect of the company. If you’re not getting credit, you may still have an upcoming course that would benefit from a report based on the company. Professionals are usually glad to help students because they remember their own student days and class assignments.
  5. Other places to network informally outside of your department are at coffee breaks, in the cafeteria or fitness center, and at social events. Thanks to most companies issuing ID badges with employee names and departments, you can quickly scan ID badges and learn enough to start up a conversation. Some interns make it a practice to sit at different lunch tables every day in order to meet more co-workers. Be sure to attend any social events at your internship, getting to know as many people as possible. And, you can also volunteer for one of the non-profit causes sponsored by your company. You may find yourself dishing out food in a soup kitchen beside the company president. Now that’s networking!
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