While you’re still in college, there’s probably nobody more qualified to vouch for your performance than your professors—yet they’re often the last people you’d ask to help get you a job. It can be scary enough asking professors to help support you on class projects, let alone asking them to recommend you for a job, right?
But the thing is, most professors have excellent contacts in the professional world. And if they know you and like you, they’d be more than happy to help you succeed once you graduate.
But here’s the rub: They have to know you, and they have to be familiar with your work. For this article, we asked college-focused career experts how you can build those relationships now to put your professors in a better position to help you—so you’ll have one more career ally to help you land a job after graduation.
Participate in discussions. Ask questions. Show that you care about the subject matter, and your professors will show you that they care about your career once class is over.
“Remember, if someone is going to tap into their network for you, they are going out on a limb for you,” says Tom Dowd, executive director of Muhlenberg College’s Career Center in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
“You have to build the relationship and develop enough trust to where they feel confident linking their name and reputation with yours. This starts by how you conduct yourself in their classroom.”
If you show your professor that you are invested in the work they’re putting in, they’ll be much more likely to write a letter of recommendation at the end of the year and do some networking on your behalf.
I know—you’d probably rather be at the gym, hanging out with friends, or doing something other than spending extra time with your professors. But going to office hours is the perfect opportunity to get to know professors on personal levels, and solicit feedback (this way you create a stakeholder in your success).
“You will also be able to learn more about your professor’s network and what they require before making a recommendation,” says Shareen Jaffer, founder of Skillify, a career-readiness program at the University of Southern California. “Remember, office hours are stated on the first day of class, so do not wait until the end of the year!”
What’s the best way to maximize your chances of someone helping you? Help them.
Svetlana Dotsenko, founder of Boston-based ed-tech startup Project Lever (a service that matches you with faculty members in your field), shares her success story using this approach: “As an undergraduate, I offered to help a professor at Harvard Medical School with her clinical study,” she says. “At first, I was just a sophomore and did not have a lot of topic knowledge, so I just joined the study to help translate patient-doctor interviews between Russian and English.
“As I progressed in my career, she offered me to the chance to help with data analysis, literature review, and conducting patient interviews—so I was able to do real research,” Dotsenko says. “Next summer, an internship opportunity came along at the World Health Organization, and my professor was able to enthusiastically recommend me for the job.”
So don’t just ask what your professor can do for you. When you’re having those one-on-one conversations, ask if there’s any way you can help him. You might be surprised at the answer.
Participated in class? Check. Visited your professors during office hours? Check. Helped them out with a project? Check. Only after these steps should you approach your professor for help setting up informational interviews with professionals in their networks.
“The purpose of informational interviews is to talk to professionals who can provide insights on what working in a particular industry is like,” says Michelle Chiu, a career coach at Prime Opt, a coaching center at the University of Washington.
Rather than flat-out asking professors for jobs, what you should be asking for is referrals and informational interviews. This allows your professor to leverage his or her network on your behalf with less pressure. He or she is making the introduction—the rest is up to you.
This article originally appeared on Monster and is reprinted with permission.