How many times have you heard your parents say; “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know?” And for once, they’re not entirely wrong.
Networking can be a great way to gain valuable advice, explore the careers that interest you, and, above all, find out about new opportunities to help build your professional portfolio.
In fact, with an estimated 60% of jobs available in a “hidden job market” - that is, where roles aren’t always necessarily advertised - networking is becoming an essential part of your time spent as a student.
But if you’ve never had any experience in networking before, how do you even go about finding the opportunity to do so? And how can you make sure you’re doing it effectively?
Read below for some snippets of advice from our team on networking, including; where to find good networking opportunities, as well as some effective networking tips to start building your confidence and skill.
You may not have ever realised it, but networking opportunities don’t just have to be official ‘events.’ In fact, with a growing social media generation making it easier than ever to connect with others, there’s plenty of ways to meet and connect with more people than ever before.
Read about some of the most common below.
The term ‘networking’ is quite a daunting one for many students. Especially when having to think about the prospect of having to go out of your way to introduce yourself to people you’ve never met before.
But the truth is, networking doesn’t have to be awkward or a stressful experience. And chances are, if you’re attending a networking event, then you’re probably not alone with your feelings of apprehension, as there will be lots of students in the same boat as you.
Networking events are a great way to meet new people in the field that you want to work in after university. Here, you can meet other students, graduates, and recruiters - who will all be looking to share experiences, opportunities, and further information.
Usually, you can find events for free, through sites such as Eventbrite or UCAS, or by keeping up-to-speed with the social media feeds of organisations you’re interested in collaborating with - as they will often post about events through their Twitter and LinkedIn profiles.
Even if you’re struggling with finding events near you, remember that any opportunity can turn into a networking ‘event.’ For example, attending recruitment events at university, volunteering within your local community, or even attending student societies are a great way to meet others and network with your peers.
Once you start to broaden your perspective of what a ‘networking opportunity’ looks like, you’ll be able to start making connections on a more frequent basis.
As familiar as we all may be at using social media to whittle away a few minutes (or hours) in our free time, did you know it can actually be an effective networking tool? You may never have realised it, but your social media can be an excellent way to reach out and connect with other students or professionals just like you. from around the world.
Sites like LinkedIn are good for expanding your professional network, so it’s important to keep your page updated with fresh content regularly and engage with others.
Here, you can access a whole range of professionals; from graduates just starting out in their careers, to CEOs of leading corporations - which can be really helpful in terms of familiarising yourself with the types of experience and skills needed to reach where they are now.
Facebook and Twitter can also be effective ways to network with others. Joining networking or subject-relevant groups can help you meet others in your niche, while your university or schools’ alumni groups can be an excellent source for new contacts. Alumni or professional organisations will often share available job positions, and you’ll have the opportunity to reach out, show your eagerness, and ask for further details.
On these platforms, you also have the opportunity to direct message people individually - which can be a great starting place to strike up a conversation and start communicating with people with experience in your field of interest. As nervous as you may be about taking that initial first step, remember that the worst that can happen is that they won’t reply - but if they do, you could just end up discovering a brilliant opportunity.
Careers services are there to expand horizons and help improve student employability - so make sure you take advantage of the services that are available to you whilst you can.
For many schools or universities, you’ll have access to these resources throughout your years as a student here, and for some, a few years after you complete your studies. They can offer lots of help and advice; from showing you the job opportunities that are available to you, to helping improve your CV, or even notifying you of networking opportunities. Some universities may even be able to put you in contact with their alumni who can talk to you more about a particular role you are interested in pursuing.
Many universities also have contacts with large and reputable companies and organisations, who they may invite to host networking events inside your university. These can be a great chance to meet prospective employers ahead of time, and even secure a job interview or offering before graduation!
If you haven’t done so already, make sure you book an appointment with your career’s centre as soon as possible to see what services they have available to you - you wouldn't want to miss out on a great opportunity!
Now you’ve got an idea of where to start networking, let’s look at some techniques to make sure you’re using your networking time as effectively as possible, and really making sure you stand out against the rest.
Now, this may seem like an obvious point to make, but when it comes to getting yourself ‘out there’ and building a connection, you need to have the motivation and confidence to take charge and lead the conversation.
This means, when it comes to striking up a conversation with someone - whether at a professional networking event, or over social media - don’t be afraid to take the lead and initiate the first contact.
If you’re feeling nervous, remember that the worst thing that can happen is that they will simply ignore you. And if you’re at a professional event, it’s pretty likely that they are probably there to network too - so the chances of that happening are pretty slim. In fact, many people appreciate the bravery of those who take charge of the dialogue and begin the conversation - confidence can go a long way!
For your best chance of success, make sure you have some good conversation starters lined up in case you get mind-blank. The following can be great questions to spark discussion:
“What’s your current role?”
“What does a typical day look like for you?”
“How did your experience help you secure your current position?”
“Any advice for people who are looking to get into your industry?”
“When applying for jobs, what are some important things I should look for?”
People love to talk about themselves and will appreciate that you’ve taken the time to go over and take an interest in them. Just try to remember all the important information they shared - should you ever bump into them again! Although, if they have some great advice, you’ll probably remember anyway.
Networking events can be hugely nerve-wracking, especially if you’ve never attended one before.
To help ease you into the process, create a short 30-second elevator pitch about yourself; who you are, what you’re studying and what you’re interested in pursuing long-term. That way, you’ll have a quick, but arranged introduction to use - which can help you feel prepared and calm your nerves.
Having an introduction ready to use is also a great way of ensuring that you get your point across quickly, which can be beneficial at busy events where companies are speaking with lots of other students or professionals.
As great as networking events are for helping you boost your employability, you also want to make sure you’re using it as an opportunity to find out about other people and make strong connections.
Remember to ask lots of questions, both to potential employers and other students. People tend to enjoy talking about themselves and what they do, and it’ll help set a good foundation for the rest of your conversation.
Take an interest in the people you speak to, and follow up with questions about their role, experience, or organisation. This can be especially helpful if you are feeling nervous, as you’ll be taking the attention off of yourself for a brief moment, and onto someone else.
Too often, students and young professionals assume that networking is all about putting yourself out there; speaking to lots of people quickly, getting your name heard, proving your abilities, and letting everyone know how talented you are.
But it’s not quite as simple as that.
In fact, one of the most common networking tips our guidance counsellors share with students is to remember that networking is a long-term investment, and requires a lot of time, patience, and nurturing. It’s about investing in connections with others who will help you grow as an individual, and who may be able to help with your career later in life.
Most importantly, networking is an opportunity to listen and learn from others. From conversations over coffee with your tutor, to casual hangouts with your fellow students, there’s so much knowledge you can gain about your field of interest by engaging in genuine conversations with others.
When you meet new people, it can be easy to try and impress them by ‘fluffing’ up details about yourself and your experience. It can even be tempting to tell a few white lies in an attempt to impress those you’re speaking with. But you should always steer away from doing so.
One of our greatest pieces of advice on how to network is to be authentic. Focus on making genuine connections will be far more beneficial than trying to be a people pleaser. Experienced professionals will be able to see straight through any waffle or white lies, and if they suspect any inauthenticity from you, you could do your reputation more harm than good.
Authenticity is key to networking. After all, imagine if you were to receive a job interview or even offer from someone in your network that you had tried to impress, and then having to upkeep that façade? It would get exhausting. That is, if you can even make it past the interview stage without them sensing some deceit.
Now this doesn’t mean you need to turn up to networking events in your comfiest loungewear and be generally unprofessional, but being honest about who you are, your interests and experiences. Never pretend to have done something you haven’t, just because you want to impress someone. And certainly never use it to intentionally deceive someone and gain a competitive edge.
Let your authentic self be the reason you secure your next job, volunteering role or work experience. It’s the only way you’ll ever find an opportunity that you feel comfortable and happy in.
When first starting out, networking can seem like an intimidating and hugely time-consuming task. However, with a little intention, you can start building your network as you go about your daily activities, without needing to think twice about it.
You go to class right? Perhaps you attend a sports club or have a part time job? Think about all the people you meet and interact with on a daily basis. From your peers and expert tutors, to coaches and even managers at work - there’s so many people with a story, experience and ambition to share - and it could just be hugely valuable to you.
Even if you don’t think they will, everyone you meet can have a positive impact on your networking abilities. Whether it’s an old classmate sharing your social media post about looking for work experience, to your sports coach who is in contact with a professional sports body, networking opportunities can be all around you. You just need to take charge of finding them.
Now we’ve established where and how to network with other students and professionals, you’ve got all the right tools to become an effective networker.
To really ensure you stand out against the rest, remember these last few tips, and you’ll be well on your way to becoming an expert networker:
Remember names: Even if you’ve only met them once, it’s important to try and remember the names of everyone you meet. This shows great listening skills, and they’ll also feel flattered that you took an interest in remembering them.
Maintain your social media: It’s important to keep your social media updated and professional, as prospective employers will often use it to find out more about you. Include all your incredible achievements to dazzle your contacts - but remember to never ‘fluff’ your experiences.
Always follow up: Even if you’ve only met briefly, following up with a thank you email or direct message shows a level of professionalism which people will appreciate. A personalised message also means people are more likely to remember you.
Now you have an understanding of how to network and where to find opportunities to do so, our last piece of advice is to go ahead and start!
As nervous or intimidated as you may feel, these uncomfortable feelings will pass the more time you spend networking. Even if you think you’re not very good at networking, the time you take to practice and put yourself out there will soon make you feel far more confident.
Remember, the sooner you start putting these networking tips into practice, the better your chances will be at connecting with someone who could just help you take those first steps towards your dream role.
Want some help with getting started on your networking journey? Meet and network with other students, tutors, and experienced guidance counsellors through a Melio online learning programme.
Whether you want to; embark on an Academic Programme where you can study amongst a small group of international students to share subject knowledge and cultural insights; learn one-on-one through Tutorials with an expert tutor; or work closely with a Guidance counsellor to build your confidence and conversational skills, we have plenty of opportunities to help you get started on your networking journey.
Find out more about the opportunities Melio has to offer by contacting our admissions team.
Alternatively, you can read this blog post about Melio to find out further details about our programmes.