Careers advisers the world over will tell you that networking can be one of the best ways to make connections, unearth hidden jobs or advance your career. What we often don't tell you is how to actually do it. To be fair to them, and to me (guilty as charged m'lord), it is an art form and it's not something that you'll necessarily pick up by just reading an article. To become a networking master takes practice and a resilient mind-set that'll help you to try out different techniques and hone your skills.
Whether you're still studying or a fully-fledged graduate, networking could be one of the best ways to either prepare for, or find that elusive first position, especially if you are considering targeting an SME.
Networking can help you learn from those that are more experienced, as well as help you escape the madding crowds and resulting competition.
OK, so I've made the big sell, networking is essential ....... blah blah blah. Now to the nitty gritty!
What I'm going to try to include in this article will give you a starting point to make networking work for you. So here they are; my 4 steps to networking success.
Use your Alumni
In my opinion, one of the most underused resources is a university's alumni. We all know it exists, but most of us (me included) never get past the blurb on the university website.
Your alumni will have hundreds of thousands of successful graduates some of which will be working in your chosen sector and may even be at companies that you want to work for.
If you're still an undergrad I suggest making the most of your alumni now. Many offer networking events, mentoring and 'meet the professionals' sessions to help you connect and learn from past students.
For those of you that have graduated, get a list together of companies that you'd be interested in working for and check to see if your alumni have any graduates working for them. They may be willing to help you connect and the great thing about being introduced by your alumni is that you already have a connection; a commonality that helps to build that all important rapport.
When you do meet, you'll need to be ready to learn as much as you can about the culture, future developments to the industry, and challenges faced by those in the sector and roles that you're interested in. By gaining an insight into the inner workings as well as some of the lingo, you'll be able to show that you can hit the ground running when you get to an interview.
Start with who you already know!
Networking isn’t just about making new connections. Those that already know you are more likely to help you. One problem that you’ll probably face is that you’ll try to talk yourself out of it. You'll be thinking things like “they're too busy” or 'I don't want to bother them'. When I hear objections like this I always try to get people to think of it this way, if you were asked to help a friend or acquaintance start their career and you actually could, would you?
Once you've got past that initial doubt, get in touch and let them know a little about your predicament, what you're hoping for and what your careers aspirations are. If it sounds like they might be able to help, arrange to meet up for a coffee and try and work out how they can help you. They may be able offer advice; provide CV feedback, know of graduate positions coming up, or know someone on the interview panel of a job that you’re going for.
Find out where influencers in your industry meet and get an invite
If you're lucky, the people you already know will be able to do this. If that's not the case you'll have to put yourself out there. One way to do this is to use the networking site LinkedIn.
Firstly, if you haven't already, you'll need to 'pimp' your profile. This is not an activity to take lightly and should in my opinion take you the best part of a day to research what works, and to develop a strong profile that shows off your skills, experience and more importantly your unique identifiers that set you apart from the crowd. These could take the form of a niche skill, some particularly interesting work experience or it could even be the personality that you weave into your profile. Remember, LinkedIn is your chance to elaborate and to wax lyrical about what makes you a good hire.
Once you've set the scene it's time to become an active member of groups related to your sector or role. By conveying passion and genuine interest, you'll already be half way there. Ask for advice and not for a favour and above all, explain why getting a foot hold in your chosen sector is important to you.
Follow up on any connections that you make at events – even if they were brief!
Networking events can often pass with a bit of a blur. A mixture of nervous energy and excitement can mean that you flit from one conversation to another, often meeting several people at the same time.
If you can, make notes, get business cards or try a little mnemonics to remember people that you meet. Hopefully, during the event you'll have made a good impression by being confident and sociable, as well as showing that you have a real enthusiasm for your industry.
Once you've said your farewells and made your way home, the following day is the time to start following up on your connections. Start with those that may have intimated that they'd like to help you, but don't forgot those that you only had a brief encounter with. Use email or LinkedIn and start by reminding them of you who you are, and more importantly why you'd like to keep in touch. Again, focus on seeking advice and help rather than out right asking them to do something for you. People often like to help on their own terms rather than being asked directly.
With any luck you'll have the made the right first impression for them to want to keep in touch and over time you'll be able to earn their much needed support.