In the run up to the launch party for our You’re Hired! Graduate Career Handbook Korin Grant and I are posting a series of blogs aimed at students and new grads which offer some tips on career building. In this fourth post we look at the highs and lows of networking.
Everyone has heard the phrase ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’. You are well within your rights to be outraged by this idea. Surely things should be based on merit rather that patronage! For the most part we’d agree, we think that it is important that companies have strong equal opportunities policies and that questions are asked when the boss’ boyfriend or cousin suddenly turns up in a senior position.
But, a lot of networking is subtler and more morally complex than that. While there are some problems with using your contracts, we don’t think that it is all bad. Most work is highly social, and people are often keen to work with people that they like and those that they know are good at their jobs. When you are meeting people, they are sizing you up, just as you are sizing them up. Inevitably this means that they might think more (or less) of you if they later meet you in a job interview.
What is more networking is not just about finding jobs, it is also about making you good at the job that you do. If you get stuck, just like in Who Wants to Be A Millionaire, you always have the opportunity to ‘phone a friend’. If you have lots of friends who are experts in your field and other areas related to it, you are going to find that you are more productive and able to deal with problems when you hit them.
NETWORKING IS SO EMBARRASSING!
So we’d like to tell you a secret. Meeting new people is hard for everyone and it is especially hard when you are at the beginning of your career. When you go to events and try to network it often seems like everyone else knows each other and you’re left sitting on the edge of the room like the wallflower at the school disco.
But there are some things that you can do to make it easier.
- Start online. It is easier to get to know someone face-to-face if you have already made a connection online. An increasing amount of networking happens online but just as with face-to-face conversations the number of contacts isn’t as important as the quality of them. 3000 Facebook friends won’t help you if you can’t remember who any of them are.
- Start with the people that you know. Networking is not just about meeting new people it is also about keeping in touch with the people that you already know. If you have met someone once, go up to them and say ‘hi, remember me’. Once you’ve met them a few times they will be a proper part of your network.
- Hunt in packs. It can be easier to approach people if you are not alone. Why not work with a friend or course mate when you first start networking.
- Get prepared. When you go up to someone that you don’t know it can be easy to get tongue tied. You can prepare three simple questions to get you started e.g. (1) ‘how did you get your current job?’ (2) ‘what advice would you offer me if I wanted to work at your company?’ (3) ‘what is the most common thing that gets an application rejected’. The point of these questions is as much to get you started as it is to find out the answer.
- Talk about yourself (but not too much). When you are meeting people it is important to provide them with enough information about you to form an impression. So tell them what you are studying, what you like about it and what you are thinking of doing next. Be positive and upbeat but don’t go on too long. Try and ask them a question about them and their organisation for every piece of information that you give.
- Remember that they are just people. The people you are networking with are people first and network contacts second. They will have interests and dreams about things other than work. Sometimes talking about a shared interest can be a powerful way to make a contact. Most of the graduate recruiters who visit universities are fairly young. For many it will only be a few years since they sat where you sat. Why not ask them where they studied and why they chose the career path that they have followed?