Networking for the Slightly Scared

Technology and social media have brought new dimensions to networking, but traditional social skills and motivation remain key elements of making successful connections. Mark Armitage, Careers Consultant, tells us how to master the dark art.

Attitudes to networking can vary from an utter dread of having to interact with a new person, to excitement at the possibilities that this can offer. Some see it as a spurious process of ingratiating others for personal gain, but it can be rewarding for both parties and is increasingly important in researching and attaining your ideal job.

Networking, not as scary as you think

Networking, not as scary as you think

If you don’t know what your ideal job looks like, the temptation is to procrastinate and be fatalistic. But networking can put you in control whereby you begin to interact and learn from others in roles that may interest you, and gain insights that never appeared in that careers booklet. Communicating with others in roles that interest you is a great start, and this can also be a gateway to work-shadowing and experience. Experience can help you understand what’s needed in a job and add to your CV to demonstrate skills and motivation.

“Remember that employers want to meet and network with you as the potential future of their organisation.”

It can be irritating to be told to network; you can’t force relationships, so where to start? The Career Zone resources can equip you with the basics of networking etiquette and our service offer a vast range of possibilities to meet and interact with people who can help you. For example, the eXepert scheme can enable you to contact Exeter alumni in fields of interest. There is also the Career Mentor Scheme; the opportunity to apply to have an Exeter alumnus to mentor and support you in a career area.

Exeter has great alumni and employer links and the range of people you can meet at careers fairs, presentations and skills sessions is immense. The important thing to remember is that employers want to meet and network with you as the potential future of their organisation, while alumni often wish to ‘give back’ to current students.

If you meet someone, treat it like a short but slightly less formal interview. Be ready to shake hands, make eye contact, smile naturally and be yourself. Ask informed and open questions about their role and the organisation, such as ‘How do you find working for…?’ Be prepared to talk and give some introduction about what stage you’re are at in your studies and your subject, but balance this with good listening skills and be attentive, interested and enthusiastic.

“Informal networking can happen anywhere, so consider your own immediate contacts and less obvious channels.”

Try not to take too much time if the person wants to meet other students, and don’t be too pushy or presumptuous. Employers may ask for your name and give you a business card. It’s a good idea to have your own business cards but use them sparingly and don’t shower people with your CV, however brilliant it may be.

If you have any sort of networking contact where you receive some help or insights remember to thank them. If you have a contact detail, a polite email of thanks could lead to further useful interaction or put you in a position to ask for work experience or further contacts. Employers at careers fairs and presentations will often make a note of your name. If you make a good impression, they may encourage you to apply and track your application. Remember that informal networking can sometimes happen anywhere and consider your own immediate contacts and less obvious channels.  An Exeter degree is not an access all areas pass, but the University is valued by employers and alumni and a great basis for your networking future.

Effective networking needs social skills and motivation to nurture relationships, combined with the appropriate use of new tools such as social media. This includes Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, which can all contribute to your networking strategy. But use them carefully in a professional way to contact people, make connections and follow trends in potential careers. Make sure that you keep more personal content private and be especially careful if you are posting pictures, comments or short articles. A good test is to consider how they might look in the future.

Positive networking may not land that dream job immediately but it will help you move to the next stage whether it be employment or further study. It will remain an important aspect of managing your future career as a graduate.

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