How to Network
So what exactly is networking?
Networking is when you take a conscious decision to make the most of every new contact you make. Networking doesn’t just happen; it’s something that you have to work at. That doesn’t mean it’s hard work, but you do need to give it some thought. Most people tend to get better with practice, so don’t be put off if you feel it isn’t something that just comes naturally.
Why should I network?
You are networking because you want to make people aware that you exist. You also want them to understand, immediately, that you are the kind of person anyone would want to have working with them.
Where do I start?
Some events are set up to bring employers and jobseekers together so that they can network. This might include: open days, careers fairs and graduate job fairs. A graduate careers fair brings together graduate recruiters, employment professionals and graduate jobseekers. A careers fair may cover all aspects of graduate employment, or may focus on a specific region (e.g. the North West) or sector (e.g. engineering).
You’ll get the chance to meet people, ask questions and pick up information. Start by going up, introducing yourself and showing that you’re interested in the other person. Just remember that there may be many other people at the event who also want to network, so don’t take up too much time.
These events are a really good way to start your networking practice. However, you will have plenty of other unexpected chances to network. Again, in these situations, you simply need to introduce yourself and ask about the other person.
First impressions count…
If you really are treating every encounter as a possible job lead, then you’ll want to make a good impression. First impressions count, particularly if you don’t get the opportunity to spend much time with your new contact.
When thinking about what to wear, you might want to choose something which is more formal. You don’t need to go all out and wear a ‘power suit’, but perhaps consider wearing trousers rather than jeans, a shirt rather than a t-shirt, and go for something clean and ironed, rather than something grubby and creased.
You might also like to think about taking some copies of your CV with you. You may also want to take note of people’s contact details; a notebook is fine for this. If you do take notes on your phone, make sure you’ve turned the sound off and do not be tempted to make personal calls when you’re on display.
Treat every encounter as a possible job lead…
Although you probably won’t be asking a contact directly for a job, you do need to treat every single encounter as a possible job lead. Even if there are no openings at present, they might bear you in mind for future opportunities, or they might know somebody else who is recruiting and point you in the right direction. Alternatively, they might just give you some words of advice, which may prove helpful at some point in your job hunt.
No matter how unlikely it may seem, or how remote the chances are of getting a job opening from a random encounter, you have to work on the principle that every single lead could be the one that takes you one step closer to your ideal career. Unfortunately, there is no set formula which determines how many contacts equal a job lead. You simply have to be alert and ready to present yourself as a possible employee at any time.
Follow up any leads…
If a contact does give you a lead, perhaps by suggesting that you check out a website, put in an application, submit a CV or even by inviting you to get in touch, you must follow through. Ideally, you should do this the next day. Keep any communication polite; if in doubt, go more formal than informal.
DOs & DON’Ts…
Here’s a handful of DOs and DON’Ts to help you on your way...
DO treat every encounter as a possible lead.
DO be polite and pleasant to everyone at all times.
DO be prepared to ask plenty of questions.
DO follow up any leads promptly; send a message or an email the next day at the latest.
DON’T be intimidated. Even if it’s a disaster the first time, you’ll get better with practice.
DON’T be casual; don’t chew gum, swear or make phone calls.
DON’T be disheartened if you have nothing concrete to show for an hour of networking; at least you made the effort.
DON’T monopolise a contact; let other people get access too.
Written by Judith Done & Rachel Mulvey
Like to know more? You can buy Judith and Rachel’s book, The Brilliant Graduate Handbook, at a 20% discount here: www.pearson-books.com/BrilliantGraduateHandbook