How to network your way to success
Networking is something that many people feel anxious about, especially when they’re just starting out in the world of work. Reaching out to people and trying to persuade them to do you a favour is always awkward, and you might just want to bury your head in the sand rather than risk rejection. But the fact is that networking can help you get all-important internships and graduate jobs.
Research estimates that an astonishing 60% of jobs are never advertised, and networking can be your route in. By finding contacts in the industry of your choice, you can boost your knowledge about the sector, hear about unadvertised positions, and perhaps even persuade someone to create a new role just for you.
So, how do you go about networking when you’re still at university or are a recent graduate? Here’s our beginners guide to making the most of every networking opportunity.
Whether you’re attending a networking event or setting up a meeting yourself, you should always aim to be as prepared as possible. That means doing some research into the person or people you’ll be talking to, and the company they work for.
In particular, if you’re reaching out to someone who you hope might be able to help you find a position at a company, you need to come across as genuinely interested and knowledgeable. Making a basic error like asking questions a minute’s worth of googling could give you the answer to – like what the company does or what jobs they’re advertising at the moment – will undermine the impression you make.
As well as making sure you won’t embarrass yourself, researching will give you insight into the person, their history and interests, and how you can best try to form a connection with them. If you have any common ground – like having gone to the same university – that might well be worth mentioning. Or if they’ve tweeted or blogged about a particular industry development that you’re interested in, bringing up that topic might lead to a good discussion.
Just remember, you want to come across as interested, not in need of a restraining order. Even if their Twitter has told you that they love walking on the beach or that their favourite fruit is pineapple, now is not the moment to bring it up.
Actually go to university careers events…
Your university probably runs plenty of networking events and careers fairs, but how many have you ever attended?
Although plenty of students do take advantage of these events, there are hundreds who don’t. In 2015, Cambridge University’s Careers Service celebrated the fact that 69% of first-degree students had voluntarily registered with the service, a significant increase on previous years – but that still left almost a third of students who weren’t even registered, let alone attending events.
Careers events are too good an opportunity to be ignored. If you don’t know what you want to do – surely what prevents many people from attending – they are your opportunity to find out. Attending an industry-specific talk will give you an idea of what working in the sector will be like, and afterwards you’ll have an opportunity to catch the speaker and ask them some questions yourself. This will help you decide whether you actually want to go into that sector, and snag you a contact in the industry at the same time.
And best of all, unlike at other networking events all employers attending a university careers fair will actively want to speak to students and hire graduates – all you need to do is show them that you’re the best person for the job.
…And external ones
Having said that, if you’re a final year student or a recent graduate it’s time to spread your wings. Attending an industry networking event or joining a careers network outside the safety of your university might seem scary, but it can really pay off.
You can start your search by looking at sites like Meetup and Eventbrite, or – for graduate specific events – Bright Network. These will put you in contact with a wider range of professionals who you can form connections with and use as a careers resource.
Before headed to an event, design a business card, listing your university, degree, and contact details. Make sure your card is easy to read and that you take along some pristine ones. Although the most important thing is to walk away with other people’s business cards, you want to be able to hand over yours in exchange. Plus having a good business card is a quick way of showing how professional and motivated you are.
Don’t make sales, make conversations
When you’re new to networking, it’s easy to make the mistake of thinking that you need to talk about yourself to try and persuade your contact that you’re a great hire. In fact, asking pertinent questions and listening to what the other person has to say are just as important in making a good impression as how you talk about yourself.
It’s a good idea to prepare an ‘elevator pitch’, so you can quickly summarise who you are and what you want to do. However, don’t immediately launch into this – start with an icebreaker, and wait until they ask you about yourself. Your goal is to make an impression as both a person and a professional, so try and have a real conversation with them.
Reach out on social media
Social media channels are increasingly useful tools for job-hunting and networking, but it’s important to get your attempts to connect with people right. Social media etiquette might be different from elsewhere, but it still exists.
As the leading professional social network, LinkedIn is an essential resource that you should take advantage of. You can follow companies and join industry groups, as well as finding the names of particular people who might make great contacts. However, don’t just send a stranger an invitation to connect. LinkedIn is a great tool for research, and for furthering a connection with someone you’ve already met, but if you want an introduction to someone, it’s better to reach out via email or to call them.
Twitter, on the other hand, is a channel through which you might well want to reach out to someone directly, particularly if you’re aiming to go into the creative industries. Reply to their tweets, join conversations, and keep your own profile is active and respectable; despite Twitter’s more relaxed culture, you should make sure you don’t tweet anything that could damage your job prospects.
Make use of every connection you already have
Networking isn’t just about meeting new people, it’s about building on relationships you already have. That means your family, your friends, your friends’ relatives and so on. Even your aunt’s husband’s sister’s life coach’s son may prove to be your new best friend if they’re working in your chosen industry.
Of course, not everyone has a conveniently placed uncle in the industry of their choice, so cast your net wide when thinking of connections you have. Your university’s alumni network is a great place to start. Not everyone will want to talk to you, but it’s always worth trying, because you never know who might end up being your ticket to success.
Inspiring Interns in the UK’s leading graduate recruitment agency. Check out their listings of internships and graduate jobs in London and beyond, or visit their blog for more graduate careers advice.