How to network as a graduate

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Networking can be easy if you have the right approach. Here's the dos and don'ts of networking to get a graduate job.

It's time to talk about everyone's favourite career-building activity: networking. Schmoozing for professionals, networking typically involves one large room filled with canapés, a bar and lots of people looking to make connections.

The old adage 'it's not what you know, but who you know' is true-so what do you do if you don't know anyone? You need to come prepared to meet, greet and impress as many people as possible with your Colgate smile. Here's how to network your way to a graduate job.

Step one: prepare

Universities provide lots of opportunities for networking, from career fairs and employer events to professional speakers and panels. Before attending, find out who's going to be there-who is the guest speaker? which company or professional body is hosting the event?

Once you know who's expected to attend, create a mental list of people you want to talk to and prepare some questions you'd like to ask. LinkedIn and Google will help you find bios and photos of the people you want to meet.

Do: Research properly and think of a couple of engaging questions ahead of time.

Don't: Let on you know someone's entire academic and employment history-you want to impress them, not creep them out.

Step two: ice breakers and intelligent openers

The set-up for networking events is often a large room with high tables, canapés and possibly a free bar. While complimentary wine and beer may seem like reason enough to attend, keep in mind you are there to impress potential employers and industry big wigs. Trust us when we say it's best to take it easy on the wine.

The hardest part of networking is getting a conversation started with someone you don't know. Try and use any contacts you have in the room to set off the chain of introduction-dominoes. If you don't know anyone, come prepared with an opening line or icebreaking conversation topic to get the ball rolling-and remember the British retreat to weather-related chat is not likely to create a lasting impression.

Don't worry if you find yourself out of your depth when an industry professional talks about their job or company. Showing a sincere interest will go a long way. Conversely, if you feel your new friend has nothing much to offer, don't write them off too soon-people know people and playing the room is what networking is all about.

Do: Be prepared to ask people about jobs you don't understand and to talk about your goals with strangers.

Don't: Lurk around conversations without bringing anything to the discussion and don't drink too much-two drinks max!

Step three: captaining conversations

Networking events do not last forever (thank goodness) so you need to use your time wisely. The trick is to steer conversations by making connections or bridging ideas to change topics.

For example, you may be interested in a marketing career but find yourself talking to an accounting professional. When they bring up their CIMA professional qualification, you can use it as a ledge to latch on a question about professional qualifications in marketing. It may seem like a crude hijack of the conversation but it's standard practice and will keep things moving.

Do: Keep your focus on the aim of the networking exercise.

Don't: Make it all about you-you-you.

Step four: the exit strategy

Let's face it: sometimes networking conversations are unsalvageable. You need to come prepared with a polite exit strategy so you don't accidentally undo any good relationships you've forged.

The best way to exit a one-on-one conversation is to pull in a third party with similar interests and substitute yourself out of there, but this can be difficult if you don't know many people at the event. Other options for a courteous exit include a toilet break or a drinks run.

Remember that someone's last impression of you is just as important as their first impression. Be polite and wrap things up in a positive way.

Do: Always be polite no matter how much you want to run away.

Don't: Make it obvious you've told a white lie to switch conversations.

Step five: the follow-up

Some people see networking events as one big business card swap. While you could hand out a stack of your own business cards, at this stage in the game you are much more likely to be on the receiving end. Which begs the question-what to do with all those contacts afterwards?

Following up after a networking event is a crucial step in turning your new friends into lasting professional contacts. Email them a little note to thank them for the interesting conversation. Try to reference something you talked about-it shows a genuine interest and can provide a bridge into further conversations.

Do: Be sincere in your follow up note-being disingenuous for the sake of self-advancement always rings false.

Don't: Mix up contacts. If you have a hard time keeping track of who is who, try making notes on the back of business cards to remind you of follow up ideas.

The best thing you can do at a networking event is leave an impression, and armed with our advice you should now feel confident about working your way around the room. Don't lose hope if nothing comes out of your networking at first-making contacts now can pay off down the line in surprising ways. Keep at it and before you know it, you'll be on your way to your graduate job.