We talk a lot about networking here a Bright Network; it’s in the name after all. However, it can still be a confusing topic, so here is our absolute beginners guide to building your professional network and using it to get ahead.
What is networking?
Your family is a network. So are your friends. When you meet someone new, get on well and exchange details to keep in touch, you have just added them to your “friends” network. Easy.
Part of the problem with networking for some people is the name. We talk about “building networks”, “networking events”, “using your network” to find or research a role, but all it means is making contacts that can help you in your career. Just like making a new friend, but in a professional context, with a few more rules and even those are pretty much common sense.
Even though the idea of an employer’s “networking event” might sounds pretty scary, it’s actually the easiest way to network. It will be full of people who want to meet students like you and will be keen to help.
What is the point?
Networking can come in handy when you're starting out. The point of networking is to build relationships with other people which you can then use to help guide and motivate your future career. It's an accepted practice in pretty much every industry; there are a surprising amount of experienced professionals who will give up their time to share their advice and experience.
This is the reason why universities and companies put on so many networking events; they want you to talk to those who have gained some experience and help you make informed choices.
How do I do it?
You already do this every day, but students still ask us questions like “What do I say?”. The key to enjoying networking is to not treat it like you're being forced to do it. If you're meeting someone because they work in an industry you have your eye on, you should actually have a lot to talk about.
As a student, you might be worried that you won't have anything to say. Don’t worry, just follow normal rules of conversation: be interested, be polite, pay attention and ask questions. You may be there to help your career, but don’t start asking for favours right away and don’t worry about exchanging phone numbers. Focus on making a good impression, and then gently follow up with that person after the event.
How do I follow up?
This has never been easier, thanks to social media. There's no need to start getting your phones out: it’s awkward and unnecessary. Just remember their name and add them on Twitter or LinkedIn, or both. LinkedIn is an essential networking tool, but if you're not quite sure how you can use it effectively, check out our quick guide here.
Once you have added them, just send a short message their way saying how nice it was to meet them, maybe mention some part of the conversation that you enjoyed to show you were paying attention. If you've met them at a networking event, they will fully expect this and are likely to be impressed with your personal message.
You have just added someone to your network. It’s really that simple. Now go and meet some people!
If you would like more networking advice, check out our Modern Networking Rules.