Student guide to networking

Does the thought of networking make you quake in your boots? Never swapped business cards in your life? Don’t panic, let Debut take you through everything you need to know to boss networking and fast track your way to some great opportunities in the process.


Why is networking so important?

Yeah we get it. Small talking with random strangers about business developments in your sector isn’t anyone’s idea of a picnic. But networking is a super important means of succeeding in the job market and accessing roles which you otherwise might never even come close to.

Some studies have concluded that only 40% of jobs are actually advertised, and the rest are filled by connections within the industry. It’s an unfair way of doing things and is why the senior ranks of many industries are still inaccessible, but until the job market changes, if you want to get ahead you’re going to have to play the game.

You’ve probably heard the phrase ‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know’ countless times. And while we would stress that having the skills and experience to back yourself up is essential, knowing the right people can help you get your foot in the door, and having a quality mentor will enable you to outstrip the competition. So how do you do it?

Some studies have concluded that only 40% of jobs are actually advertised


Network outside the box

When you think of networking, you might imagine a room of smartly dressed business types chatting over canapes and discussing the stock market. And while this type of networking does exist, you need to think of networking much more broadly. Networking happens all the time, everyday, at countless different opportunities and events. You just need to learn how to identify a potential networking opportunity when it occurs and seize the situation to establish a relationship. It’s not easy, but it’s something you’ll learn over time and with plenty of practice.


Different types of networking

So what different kinds of networking situations could you find yourself in? And how do you act appropriately when the time arrives?

    • Conferences are prime hunting grounds for networking. You’ll be in an enclosed space with hundreds of people working within your industry, from students to top level researchers and developers. While they can be quite intimidating, it’s important to exploit the opportunity while you can – ask questions during panel discussions, approach speakers at the end, use the subject matter of the speeches to initiate conversations with other attendees and always attend the evening activities. Take a stack of business cards (yes, you are qualified enough to have a business card), and meet as many people as you can.

    • Your university is likely to hold a number of these throughout the year, inviting back successful alumni either from the university as a whole or your specific course/department to talk about the success they’ve achieved since graduating. As always, ask questions when you’re able to, and approach speakers at the end for further questions and conversation. You’ve already got something in common (you went to the same university!) so use that to jump start a conversation.

    • Now this is the ‘scary’ one. Networking drinks are designed specifically for networking purposes and will typically involve having to ‘work the room’; that is, introduce yourself to as many people as possible, establish some good rapport and swap business cards. Just remember that two quality connections is better than half a dozen fleeting conversations, so pick out the most worthwhile contacts and spend some time forging a memorable relationship with them.

    • Whenever you get the opportunity to enter the workplace, whether through work experience, internships or open days, your networking radar should be on high alert. Don’t just keep your head down and do your work, use the opportunity to talk to as many people as possible, find out what their roles are and ask if you can help them out. This will help you visualise exactly what kind of role you would suit you best, and help you make a positive impact within the company.

    • This is the main type of networking that people often forget about. While at university the people you hang around with might just seem like your friends, but fast forward five years and they could be your colleagues or the key to a future job. For example, if you work on the student newspaper, your fellow writers are likely to be the journalists of the future. Maintain strong relationships and make sure to keep in touch after graduation!

    • Obviously the main thing you’re going to be thinking about in a job interview is impressing the people in front of you, but regardless of whether you get the job at the end of it, you should aim to make a meaningful connection with the panel. If you’re friendly and impress them, even if they don’t offer you the job, they’re likely to keep you in mind for future openings.


What you should get out of it

One of the things that people often freak out about when it comes to networking is the end goal – what are you aiming to get out of the person you’re talking to?

Number one golden rule: Try not to go into the conversation with any expectations. If you approach someone with the set intention of asking for some work experience or some other favour, it’ll be obvious to the person you’re talking to that you’re not interested in them, you’re just interested in what they can offer you.

The only thing you really need out of the exchange is the connection itself. All you really need is for that person to recognise your face at the end of it. If you do want to enquire about work experience or ask for some specific advice, make sure it happens naturally and don’t just dive in with the request straight away. Get to know them as a person before you start asking for favours – just like you would in any normal friendship.

Try not to go into the conversation with any expectations


Confidence issues

The main problem most people report when trying to network is not being confident enough to approach new people – strangers, essentially – especially those who work in positions much higher than your own. If you’re not particularly extroverted, being able to sustain a conversation over a long period of time with someone you barely know can be a challenge.

Try not to freak out – there are things you can do to make the experience easier. Take a friend with you, for example, or practice how you’re going to present yourself with a friend at home beforehand. It isn’t easy, but you will find it easier over time if you push yourself out of your comfort zone and start small. You can find lots more tips on networking for introverts here.


Dos and Don’ts

Establish a rapport with them before you move on to the serious stuff.Act inferior - know your own worth and talk on the same level.
Make eye contact, smile and make encouraging noises to show you’re listening.Definitely don’t get drunk - even though that free alcohol might be tempting.
Actually listen carefully to what they say and think of an intelligent response.Stray off topic - getting involved in a big political debate isn’t going to go down well.
Ask questions throughout.Talk too much (or too little).
Prepare beforehand - your work, subject area, current projects etc.Be too casual - avoid slang and anecdotes.

Maintaining relationships

Networking doesn’t stop at the end of the event. Maintaining those relationships over time takes some dedication and effort. Here are the steps you should take to sustain a healthy connection:

  1. After you meet someone at a networking event, connect with them on LinkedIn. Do this as soon as possible, while you’re still fresh in their mind.
  2. Create a personalised message for your LinkedIn request: ‘It was great meeting you at [event name]. Thank you for your time and your advice on [topic]. Would be great to stay in touch.’
  3. Also check to see if they have Twitter and give them a follow. Then like and retweet their Tweets when you see fit.
  4. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice at a future occasion – even suggest meeting up for coffee to talk in more depth. Most will be happy to help, and it’s a great way to keep the connection fresh.
  5. If you see something that they might find interesting based on a topic you previously discussed, refer them to the relevant article or website – just don’t bombard them with messages!
  6. If you see them at a future event, always go over and reintroduce yourself, reminding them that you met previously. They’ll be glad you made the effort to reconnect.

After you meet someone at a networking event, connect with them on LinkedIn


Social networking

Social networking is not usually as effective as face-to-face networking, but is still worthwhile to pursue. And let’s face it, 18-24-year-olds are more adept at using social media to achieve their goals than any other generation.

LinkedIn is the most obvious platform to do this, although it can be hard to connect with people without some kind of introduction beforehand. Keep your LinkedIn profile up to date, share updates on your work and engage with your connections to make the most out of the channel.

Twitter is also a really useful resource for making connections, and can often be easier for nurturing conversation and developing relationships. You can follow someone at the click of a button and retweet/like/comment on their Tweets to show your interest in their work and ask questions.

Allow conversations and relationships to develop in the same way you would in a face-to-face interaction – don’t drop someone a message out of the blue asking for work experience or a favour. Also don’t become a stalker; you don’t have to like every single thing they post.

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