The idea of networking tends to evoke mixed feelings and reactions from students, alumni, and even current professionals. We conjure up images of approaching strangers – in person and online – in an attempt to strike up a conversation to get to know them. Doesn’t it sound familiar? It’s like making friends. In reality, networking – or making connections – is an unconscious standard practice we partake in from a young age.
What do we mean by networking?
Networking is about connecting with people and building professional relationships. We all have a lot of existing networks but in terms of career, it’s pinpointing which individuals can help your professional growth in all senses of the word. In other words, networking is about broadening perspectives e.g., finding more about a role, sector, work culture, and more.
A very important thing to remember is that networking is a two-way process, networking is not just about you and your needs, rather it’s far more important to understand their story before you tell them about yours.
Before we proceed, we need to debunk a few networking myths to clear any doubts and fears regarding the practice. It’s not what you think it is!
- Networking is only for extroverts and I’m shy.
Well, to throw out a different perspective, being shy isn’t a setback. Shy people are extremely effective at networking because they tend to be active listeners and great at observation.
- People will be annoyed if I ask them for help.
Try putting yourself in their shoes. How would you react to someone reaching out to you with genuine interest? For most people, you would immediately be happy to help. It’s about your approach and how you frame your questions. Don’t forget your manners!
- The only people worth networking with are those who can offer you a job.
This is not true! Making meaningful connections with people can lead to insider tips and information. For example, most jobs aren’t advertised publicly, perhaps they might remember that one graduate who took time to reach out and let them know about those openings.
- Small talk is awkward and I don’t like to schmooze.
No one likes a schmoozer! Be genuine and honest and feel free to talk about other things besides the weather. Try to get to know them first and express interest in their story.
- Networking is selfish.
Prioritise learning about the person before you ask anything of them. Don’t ask for a job — ask for an informational interview. It is about asking for their time and being respectful of that.
Networking is highly valuable.
Here are some fun facts and statistics that show the power of networking.
- Jobs can be found through networking e.g., 60% of all job openings are never advertised, most are based on recommendations.
- Anyone you want to meet is only 4-5 people away from you.
- A referral generates 80% more results than a cold call.
- Networking improves chances for speculative applications.
- Networking is good preparation for an application or interview
How do you start networking?
Traditional conceptions of networking tend to occur in-person or offline. Under pre-COVID-19 circumstances, most students would network through career fairs, alumni events, conferences, employer networking events, and even through volunteering, joining societies, and open days. However, in these last 1.5 years, most networking has been done online on everything from zoom events to social media such as LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook. The following section offers tips and tricks on how to plan and execute your networking strategy.
Prepare your networking approach in three stages: prepare, perform, proactive
The platform: familiarise yourself with the platforms, make sure to download, test, and investigate the online platform ahead of time for any fairs, seminars, live panels, or simply coffee chats that you might encounter.
The environment: while being on screen, ensure that your laptop is situated at an eye level, leave your camera on, you can use a backdrop, and try to reduce background noise.
The research: consider your audience, plan your questions ahead of time, and research the organisation/alumni contact.
Things to do: ask questions! Be timely — log in ahead of time, dress as if you are going to the office, follow the guidance of the online session.
Things to avoid: looking at any other browsers while you’re on your computer/writing emails or checking your phone.
Prepare your intro: give some thought to how you would like to introduce yourself. You can do this by writing an elevator pitch.
An elevator pitch includes:
- your name, background (postgraduate student, jobseeker)
- your career goal (it doesn’t need to be really specific, it can be an overview of what interests you!)
- what you are doing now and what you’ve done (studying, working, looking for experience)
- why you’re different or the best (short story or concrete example of something you’ve done)
- what help you need to meet your goal (be more specific here, what information/contacts do you need from them? How much of their time do you need).
Practice active listening: maintain eye contact, nodding, smiling, asking open questions, and paraphrasing their words. Stay engaged when you’re speaking to contacts, show that you’ve done your research (e.g., I noticed that your company is involved in . . .).
End the conversation: utilise social signals! Change your tone and pace, begin to summarise what you’ve talked about, and properly saying your goodbyes (e.g., it was a pleasure to meet you). Make sure to get their details/business card (if appropriate).
Make a note about what that person said to you. Try to have a notebook to hand and scribble a few notes when necessary. Remember that you are not in a lecture! If you take notes the whole time and break eye contact too often, it can come across as rude and make it awkward.
Right after the conversation, make sure to do two things:
- Jot down notes on the way home or immediately to remember the finer details of conversation. When you’re writing notes select and prioritise useful information.
- Send then an email with a hook! Jog their memory from your conversations. Make them remember you!
Networking is very much still a thing even in a COVID-19 scenario. Arguably, it’s become more important than ever when many companies have changed their hiring styles! At LSE Careers we’ve continued to run many sessions online which provide you with both the insight and information on networking as well as the opportunity to meet and connect with organisations and alumni. Find out more about our events online.
Looking for more information on networking? We have a plethora of blogs on this topic covering more tips and tricks. You can also try listen back to recordings on CareerHub or why not book an appointment with a careers consultant to discuss your networking strategies.