Guest blog from Farrah Ekeroth, working for professional services firm EY (Ernst & Young):

For many students and recent graduates entering the world of work, networking can be a daunting thing. There’s a tendency to view it as a one-off activity, where business cards are exchanged and hands are shaken. In reality, it’s actually something we already do, every day, with our friends, colleagues and acquaintances. At its most basic level, networking is about forming and maintaining relationships. And it might just be the key to finding your dream job.

My own experience with networking has been a hugely positive one. In fact, if it wasn’t for the recommendation of a former colleague, I wouldn’t have known about the role I’m currently in today. As I’ve come to realise, networking doesn’t begin the day you graduate and it certainly doesn’t end there either. It’s been four years since I left university and I’m still actively working on my networking skills, meeting new people and building my professional network. It’s an ongoing activity that takes time and effort but can reap huge rewards.

To get you started, I’ve shared some of the golden rules I’ve picked up in my time at work and beyond:

Attend networking events

This sounds obvious but in hindsight I wish I had made the most of networking opportunities at university. Your careers service will hold plenty of events throughout the year so make every effort to attend. Use these occasions to learn more about the industries and companies you’re interested in. Soak up the knowledge and don’t be afraid to make the first introduction. Beyond careers events, look to build networks with your peers through student societies, volunteering and part-time work.

Prepare your elevator pitch

Meeting students at campus events is one of the most enjoyable aspects of my job. I love meeting students who are passionate about our brand and come armed with plenty of questions. When approaching employers, make sure you have a clear understanding of what you bring to the table. Networking events are extremely busy and we’re often approached by a lot of students which makes it tricky to stand out from the crowd. Have a think about your personal brand and come prepared with your elevator pitch. Think about who you are, what you’re studying and what you’re looking for from an employer. Ask us questions and share a business card – if we don’t have your contact details we won’t be able to keep in touch!

Make the most of social media

I’m a passionate believer in the power of social media, whether for corporate or personal brand building. Whether we like it or not, social media has changed the face of networking and is an amazing tool to build your visibility and land jobs. Invest in your LinkedIn profile, follow employers online, make use of the content they’re sharing and use these channels to keep up to date with the latest recruitment updates. Invest time in building your own following by regularly sharing content and connecting with those you’ve met at events. Digital channels will never replace face-to-face interaction but it can be a useful platform to connect with like-minded people.

Be generous

As I’ve stressed, networking revolves around forming and maintaining relationships. Networking for the sake of networking isn’t the right approach and is unlikely to be of any benefit. This is the age of collaboration and reciprocity. View networking as a two-way street and share what you know with others: send a useful article you’ve read, make an introduction, or reach out to someone you’ve lost contact with. Above all, be interested in ideas and others, not just yourself and what you might get out of a relationship. Networks take a long time to cultivate so make sure you’re in it for the long run.

If you’re keen to learn more about being better connected, check out EY’s suite of materials to help navigate the world of networking.

Good luck and happy networking!