The skill of networking for many can be a mysterious concept. It’s not something that is practised at school, which is a shame because networking at every level is vital - most senior jobs are never advertised and go to people known by the decision makers.
At the graduate level it’s important, because if you get it right at careers events, you can boost your employment chances considerably. It can be daunting to walk up to a group of strangers, some of them really important, and network effectively.
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, maintain enough eye contact to learn their eye colour. This will strike a good balance between confident eye contact and gormless staring.
3. Take the initiative
The next step is to start the conversation. Ask them a question, whether they be potential employers or fellow students. 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 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 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.
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....