If you’re a student who’s often been told to network without knowing why or how it works, then keep reading!
It’s no secret that I consider networking as the top skill any professional can have, let alone a fresh graduate trying to establish themselves.
This is because it requires both a high degree of Communication (the most employable skill) and emotional intelligence – also one of the top employable skills.
As to why you’d want to network as a student, besides the direct benefit of getting your first job, it’s about having a strong support system that you can contribute to and get help where required, both on a personal and professional level.
So how does it work and where can you network?
A. Networking Events
As we recently held a networking event at GradShip, it was interesting to see that while it’s easier to meet people at networking events, at least in theory, in practice this has not been the case.
This is due to many students and graduates not having trained their “networking muscle”. Simply put, you need to practice the skill of confidently introducing yourself to complete strangers.
In a networking event, you may want to use some of these opening lines:
*Extending hand* “I’m _____, What’s your name?”
*Reading name-tag* “Where’s that name from?”
“What brings you to the event today?”
“How did you hear about today?”
“Is this your first time here?”
“Who do you know here?”
Once you overcome the initial hesitation, the conversation gets going and you’ll establish new connections, which also means you’ll get better at meeting strangers next time.
Here’s a tip for you: With your new connections, avoid the common questions about studies and work, and ask more personal (and appropriate) questions about sports, family, hobbies, and interests.
B. Social Events
Perhaps the biggest missed opportunities for students are the social events that are not labeled as ‘networking’. These include community meetings, on-campus social clubs, Christmas lunches/dinners, end-of-year parties, new year events, and so on!
The social nature of such gatherings makes for engaging conversations to be held, and great connections to be made. Meeting a new connection is not about asking them for a job, but about being genuinely interested in what they have to say.
Once you’ve had a conversation with someone, you can ask them afterward for their preferred method of staying in touch (Instagram, LinkedIn, WhatsApp..etc).
But remember you’re there to network not to ask for a job! (See also: Networking For Students & Graduates…Here’s What You Need To Know!)
Here’s a tip for you: If you find yourself on your own at the event, don’t look at your phone (have the notifications off beforehand), but rather stay engaged and present in the room. I know it’s easier said than done, but you never know where the next conversation would take you, so make yourself accessible.
C. Staying In Touch
A simple message after the event signals that you’re keen to keep that connection, and even strengthens it if a catch-up is initiated. It’s surprising how many students invest time and money in meeting new people, yet choose not to strengthen their current network.
If you are thinking “This new connection can’t do anything for me, why should I stay in touch?” then you’re missing the point. Networking works both ways and is a long-term project that is more than just finding a job.
Here’s a tip for you: Go through your messages on Instagram, WhatsApp, LinkedIn..etc, and thank those who supported you throughout 2021 the year, wishing them a Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!
Is it a quick exercise? Probably not. Would it mean a better network in 2022? Absolutely!