Networking for Newbies
Networking. For many students this is a daunting concept, the bridge between student and “adult” worlds. Perhaps some already have memories of awkward networking events, or standing on the edge of a group not quite knowing what to say. However, networking shouldn’t be reduced to events alone.
Although comforting, our makeshift families do not help us thrive. Instead, building relationships with “weak ties”, such as neighbours or one-time substitute professors, are the gateway to professional and personal opportunities. A study revealed that more than three-quarters of new jobs come from contacts seen only “occasionally” or “rarely”.
Networking becomes much less daunting concept when the goals are not achievement based; networking is not about living life as if it were a constant job interview but about meeting like and differently minded people, opening doors to a bigger, more diverse world. Some ‘networking’ may simply bring new conversation and a new perspective. Don’t underestimate its value .
“I’m a student, I don’t need to worry about this yet”
WRONG. Of course there’s no need to worry, but it is never too early to start. Abhinav Dawar, Associate, PwC M&A Strategy explains, ‘alongside making great contacts and potentially winning new clients, networking provides a huge learning opportunity from like-minded people. Not only is it never too early to start networking but it is crucial to network at a young age to maximise the exposure you get’. At university, Abhinav realised that McKinsey, unlike many other consultancy firms, did not run a student ambassador scheme on his campus. He wrote to them, suggesting to become an ambassador, and landed an internship within the company. 2 years later, he is a graduate associate with PwC, partly due to his experience in the consultancy field. This is an example of how networking extends beyond the events world.
As students, more common than networking events are the constant opportunities to meet new people: new professors, teaching assistants, contacts at your local community centre or sports club, the charity where you volunteer...I’ve even made professional contacts on the train! Talk to people, engage with them and most importantly, be yourself.
Practical tips for improving your networking skills:
- Do your research: If you know who you are going to meet in advance, research them beforehand so that conversation flows smoothly. Especially at networking events, this will help to identify who is of most interest to you so it doesn't look like you're working the room.
- Be prepared: What’s your unique selling point? You can prepare an authentic rhetoric but make sure that it doesn’t sound rehearsed.
- Be genuine: At events, there is nothing worse than a forced laugh or giving the impression that you are constantly looking over your shoulder in search of someone more important. Spend time being real with the person you are talking to.
- Ask questions: People love talking about themselves. Ask questions, don’t just seem interested; be interested. Remember: being interested is what will make you interesting.
- Be comfortable: At events, don’t wear those new shoes you’ve not broken in yet or the shirt that has a loose button. You want to be memorable because of who you are, not because of a clothing related mishap!
- Don’t be a business card-thruster: Yes, preparation is key, and business cards are useful. If you’re a student, having a business card with your name and details on it shows that you know how to run with the grown-ups (you can print them cheaply yourself). However, don’t be a business card-thruster. Talk to people first and only offer one if they seem interested.
- Save contact details: business cards fall out of trouser pockets easily, and are rarely legible once they have gone through a wash cycle! So, whether you use an old-school address book or you live in an e-world, make sure to save those details after the event. Camcard is a great free app that scans and saves business cards.
- Follow up : Send a personal one-line email saying how great it was to meet your new contact or how grateful you are for their advice - this is as important as meeting them.
Author: Zoe Hayes