Networking is an essential skill to master during university and throughout your career. In simple terms, it’s making connections which can help you get ahead in your career. Building your contacts can help you discover opportunities and provide you with career guidance. Here’s all the networking advice you need and more.
What is networking and where can I use it?
Networking is the exchange of information and ideas among those with a common interest or profession - this can be via an informal social setting or online through professional networking sites like LinkedIn. Networking can be used in various areas, from assessment centres and careers fairs, to the colleagues at your current job or to other students on your university course. Networking doesn’t have to be with someone who’s a professional or expert in a certain topic, it can be with people you’re interested in, especially if they are doing a job you’re looking to go into, or it can even be with friends.
Learn how to perfect your LinkedIn profile ready for your networking journey to begin.
Networking tips and advice
- Find networking groups that suit you - Joining a group gives you an instant pool of people to network with. The obvious groups are the trade organisations such as the Institute of Engineering and Technology. At the early stages of your career though, that’s not necessarily your cup of tea. You’ll find that there are many smaller, more flexible groups that you can dip into depending on your interests. It's not too late to get involved in university societies which give you this chance.
- Gauge your comfort level - For the introverts among us, networking can be intimidating. Remember, you don’t have to throw yourself in at the deep end. If you don’t feel like a natural networker, try looking for a structured event at your university such as a talk or a workshop. The familiar environment will help ease any nerves. Go along intending to learn something and let the networking aspect take a back seat. As you get more confident you can make more of an effort to interact.
- Make a good first impression - Whether you’re at a formal dinner or a meeting someone on campus, there are a few very simple things you can do to make that first impression count. Practice your handshake. Grip firmly, make direct eye contact and try to make sure your palms are dry (there are antiperspirants designed for hands!). Introduce yourself with confidence. The “fake it ’til you make it” technique really does work. Get the conversation going. After the introductions, a simple next step is to tell the person why you decided to talk to them. Think before you speak. A couple seconds’ pause will barely register with your listener, even if it feels awkward to you.
- Think about what you can offer - You’ll make more friends if you approach networking by thinking about what you can give, not what you can get. Everyone likes a person who helps them out. Keep an eye out for things you can do, such as introducing someone to a friend or tipping them off about a job opportunity. It’ll build stronger connections than small talk can.
- Volunteer or speak at events - Volunteering as a host or helper at an event gives you a reason to speak to everyone. For even better visibility, keep an eye out for events where you can give a talk or run a workshop. Get advice from the event organisers about what would work best, and make sure you’re well-prepared on the day. Check out your university calendar to see when events are taking place this term.
- Log your contacts and follow up - After a successful networking event, you’ll come away with a handful of names, email addresses or business cards. Even if you're busy with exams or assignments, set yourself time to go through and log people’s details or add them on Facebook or LinkedIn. Then choose who to follow up with and how you’ll do it.
- Pay attention to your key contacts - As an effective networker you’ll quickly build up more contacts than you can easily handle. It’s important to be selective. Try making a list of 10-20 people you think are really worth staying in touch with. Once you’ve narrowed it down, you can give them more attention. Check in with them every few months, even if it’s just a friendly email asking how they are.
- Develop a thick skin - You’re not going to click with everyone you meet. Don’t obsess over an unanswered email. Try contacting the person again; possibly you caught them at a bad time. Then move on to the next person on your list.
Key benefits of networking
Networking can have amazing benefits, not just for your career but also your confidence. Here’s some of the key benefits of networking:
- Discussing fresh ideas - if you’ve heard of the phrase, ‘two heads are better than one,’ you might know that this is often the case. Talking to someone new who is working or interested in your industry can spark new ideas and conversations.
- Develop lasting connections - networking is not about meeting people for two minutes and never speaking to them again. The point is to make effective and lasting connections with those in and around your industry, as who knows what the future could bring - you could work together or you may be put forward for a job they think you’d be great at.
- Get career advice - speaking to those in your industry can be extremely beneficial if you’re looking for advice. Everyone you speak to has a different story and experiences, so they might be able to offer you some tips or advice on something you’re aiming to achieve.
How to build your network
While what you know certainly does matter, who you know is also highly-important when it comes to carving out a successful career. Building a network can take time and patience, but our CEO & Founder, James Uffindell, is here to offer his unmissable advice:
To learn more read our top tips on how to network and build contacts.
How to make the most out of careers events & fairs
1. Choose your initial group carefully
I’ve seen company representatives swamped by eager students, while their colleagues in the corner are just talking to one student. It’s best to pick the smaller group – much more face-time. If you can, always ask for guest lists and panellists. You can then look them up online beforehand and pin down who you really want to meet.
2. Start off strong
When you introduce yourself, do so with a firm handshake and good eye contact. One tip is, when you say hello to someone, maintain enough eye contact to learn their eye colour. This will strike a good balance between confident eye contact and gormless staring.
Watch this video on how to build your network.
3. Take the initiative when practising how to network
The next step is to start the conversation. Ask them a question, whether they're a potential employer or fellow student. If you watch newsreels of the Queen meeting people on tour, she always kicks off with a question. She doesn’t go into a ten-minute monologue on her commute or the weather.
Conversely, it’s just as important to know how to leave a group as it is to join one. At a networking event, you’re not expected to make best friends with one person, so once you’ve had a couple of core questions answered, it’s time to move on.
Likewise, even if you want something from the person you’ve met, like an investment or a job, you still need to keep your conversation short. A networking event isn’t actually the place to discuss long term commitments. Instead, ask them if you can follow up with a coffee.
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4. Follow up
At the end of the event, you need to make sure that the connections you’ve made turn into lasting contacts. Always go back up to the person you’ve networked with at the end to say thank you and remind them you exist, mentioning something personal you talked about to reinforce your identity in their memory.
Business cards are still a good touch, all the more so at a young age as they’re rarer, but make sure they’re good quality. Then you should always follow up with an email or social media, nothing lengthy, just enough for them to remember you.
So there you have it - you're now practically a networking pro. Why not try out your new skills at our exclusive networking events?
Whether you want to learn more about networking, or you want to work on your presentation skills, the Bright Network Academy core career skills course will help you develop these skills you’ll need throughout your career.