Networking often gets an unfairly bad name. You might picture it as standing around making awkward small talk with strangers but that’s not the reality.
If you do it right, you’ll attend events that teach you more about your industry and meet people who share your interests – with the added bonus that you’ll have friends on hand when you need help. Read on for top tips to make you a comfortable, confident and successful networker.
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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 of seconds’ pause will barely register with your listener, even if it feels awkward to you
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. 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.