Networking isn’t specific to any profession, place or person, and it certainly isn’t just about finding a job. Networking is about expanding your relationships, knowledge and opportunities. Think you can’t network? Well you already do – your friends, Facebook and classmates are all examples!
While it isn’t all about schmoozing your way into a new graduate job, networking can only help when it comes to developing your career. So whether you think networking is too scary, too difficult or simply unnecessary, it’s time to think again. Here are 7 simple steps to help make it work for you.
1. Have realistic expectations
Just like interview technique, networking is a skill and practice is the only route to perfection. That also means anyone can learn! Expecting to receive instant graduate job offers or for every experience to run smoothly will only lead to disappointment; networking is about building long-lasting relationships, not finding an open door into a job.
2. Always be prepared
You never know when you may meet a potential contact, but carrying a CV everywhere is impractical at best. Contact cards (note: contact, not necessarily business, cards) offer the perfect solution. As a student you only need to include your name, contact number and email address – any more may seem inappropriate – and they’re cheap to get printed. Some websites, such as Vistaprint, even offer some completely free!
3. Look in the mirror
Practice introducing yourself and speaking in front of a mirror. You may feel silly at first but when it’s time to do it for real you’ll feel much more confident, which can only leave a better impression. Body language often says more than words in a first encounter and seeing yourself will also reveal any bad habits, such as slouching, so you can kick them now.
4. Do your homework
Would you walk into a job interview with no knowledge of the company? How about sitting an exam without researching past papers? Employers Google candidates for a reason, so play them at their own game and learn a little about any names you know you might meet. And don’t underestimate the power of any trivial facts you discover – in a sea of new faces, a shared interest may make yours the most memorable.
5. Be proactive
You wouldn’t sit and wait for a job to come to you so why wait for a potential employer to strike up a conversation? Approaching others isn’t easy but your assertiveness will have a positive impact if you choose your moment carefully. After meeting someone, a short follow up email a few days later to say how interesting/inspiring/enjoyable it was to speak to them can go a long way too. Social media sites such as LinkedIn are also a great way to expand your network – just make sure you’re using it effectively. Get a free e-course on LinkedIn here.
6. Pay attention
In the movies, a forgotten name is an awkward-but-funny moment. In real life, it’s just awkward. You’re probably more focused on your own words, but being a good listener is crucial when meeting someone new. If you struggle to remember names, try repeating those of new acquaintances (‘nice to meet you, John’) and you’ll be forced to focus. If you do get caught off-guard, be honest – it’s happened to everyone at some point, after all – but don’t be too blunt. Smile and try something like, ‘I’m so sorry but your name’s completely slipped my mind. Could you remind me?’
7. Get organised!
Once relationships are starting to be built, some sort of contact filing system is essential if you want time spent networking to be time well spent. Never ever throw away contact details and write information on the back of all you collect. Whether serious, interesting or quirky, it’ll prompt your memory of the individual as well as giving you an instant ice-breaker should you want to contact them in the future.
Got more thoughts about getting a graduate job? Chat in our student forum!
Helpful link – Free LinkedIn e-course from The CV Centre