Networking isn't just for schmoozers and social climbers—it's an excellent way for students and graduates to get ahead of the pack.
Networking is the skill of making strong connections for professional or personal gain. It means making business contacts, getting referrals, and sourcing job and internship opportunities. There are many occasions when this skill will come in handy for graduates so it's important you learn how to get it right
One thing you may want to consider doing before attending any networking event is getting your Elevator Pitch in order. This is a 60 second spiel about who you are, what you're looking for and what you have to offer. As part of personal branding, you should be able to speak clearly to anyone and tailor the pitch to the occasion.
Once you've got your pitch down, you need to go out and put it into action. With that in mind, here are four common networking situations and how to make the most of them.
At Careers Fairs you will speak directly to employers, which presents the perfect opportunity to put your networking skills to action. In a busy and crowded environment, the challenge is to make the careers advisor remember you.
Firstly, be engaging and professional. Don't be afraid to make the first move—that's what the employer is there for, to meet graduates just like yourself. Ask them about the company and the positions they are hoping to fill. Try and be creative with your questions—they will likely have been asked the same things over and over throughout the day, so try to get them talking about something new.
Give them your Pitch to explain who you are, what you've done and how you might be suitable for the company. Careers Fairs are the one place you don't have to be afraid to pitch yourself, just keep it short and to the point. And if you're really interested in the role, don't forget to get their details and follow up a day or two later.
Faculty and Society Socials
Most university faculties and Student Union Societies will put on regular social events or lectures. After inviting a guest speaker or speakers in to discuss a range of topics there will be some form of soiree with boxed wine and nibbles—this is your time to put your networking skills to the test.
The key to succeeding at these events is to know who you are talking to. If you can, put in the research before attending and find out a little about the speakers. Knowing something about their background and career path will enable you to start a conversation with a perceptive question or two.
Don't forget to follow up on these meetings. If you haven't managed to get their contact details, see if you can find them on Twitter or other social media and send them a message to let them know you enjoyed hearing them speak and meeting them afterwards. Express your interest in something they are involved in and you may get yourself on the inside track.
Professional and Cultural Events
One of the most important parts of networking is going out and finding your own opportunities. Don't just wait for your faculty to invite a speaker in your field—do some research and see what events are being held in your city and attend as many as you can. Separating yourself from the school herd and meeting some professionals in an environment outside university can help set you apart from the rest of the soon-to-be-graduate job hunters.
Networking is also not limited to professional or cultural events. You never know where you might meet someone who can offer you an opportunity, so it's important to master the art of small talk. Practice starting conversations with strangers by finding a bit of common ground or objective. Whether it be food, football or the evergreen British option—the weather—never underestimate anyone you speak to. You never know what or who they know.
Part time jobs and internships are great opportunities to build relationships and test the waters for the future.
For example, if you work behind a bar, take the time to talk to your manager, to the guys working in the kitchen, to the person who delivers the booze. Find out a bit about them and how they got their job. Even if it's not what you want to do, you can still learn a lot about how things work—and you never know who might have an aunt who works in the field you are interested in!
Interns should know to be on the charm offensive and start networking from the first day. Meeting people from different departments as well as the one you're currently based in is a way to improve your chances of being kept on, and a way of learning as much as you can while you have the chance.
It might be the best advice you'll hear but always say yes to after work drinks if invited, and always attend any social and extra-hour activities.
Creating contacts is vitally important to help you through the job application process—that is how you will hear about the best opportunities and get recommendations. And it's equally important to maintain them. You don't have to be BFFs but dropping a new contact an email every few months to check in or suggesting a swift half one evening will keep you fresh in their mind.
The key to networking is giving and taking. Be your natural charming self and use the opportunity to feel around for opportunities and contacts. It may feel unnatural to start, but everybody does it and with a little practice it'll become comfortable—we promise!