Networking – Chore or Cure?
The Diversity & Inclusion Leaders on Campus networking event took place on Monday 4th December and brought together students and staff across the university and Students’ Union involved in diversity and inclusion. The purpose was to connect individuals, working in a shared field with similar interests, to create opportunities and spark ideas – to network.
The word often strikes fear into the heart of students and is commonly met with a a sigh of reluctance. This hesitation to embrace networking may spring from a variety of factors: the fear of talking to strangers, saying something potentially embarrassing, worrying what people might think of you or perhaps just not really seeing the point in any of it.
I studied Fine Art at university, and there is often a big misconception of what the course entails. Whilst the degree is heavily based on practical work, spending large parts of the day in your studio experimenting, another major side to the course is building your ability to network. A big part of being an artist is being able to discuss your work and inspire others; you’re put in a position where you’re essentially selling yourself and your ideas.
Don’t get me wrong, at first I found all of this rather egotistic. But I was quick to learn that being able to network with people was immensely beneficial not only to my practice but to me as an individual. I discovered that the act of networking isn’t a self-centred act, it’s about demonstrating a mutual connection between 2 people and seeing an opportunity within an interaction.
Since graduating and entering the competitive graduate jobs market, I am able to look back in retrospect and appreciate that the best skill I developed during my studies was networking. I can safely say that all my voluntary and professional work since graduating has been a result of mustering up the courage to simply talk to another individual, whether that be through attending a networking event, using Linkedin, chatting to a professional or simply asking a family member to put me in touch with someone.
And I’m not alone in reaping the rewards on networking. In an article on The Balance looking at The Importance of Career Networking, “80% of professionals consider professional networking to be important to career success” and “35% of surveyed professional say that a casual conversation on LinkedIn Messaging has led to a new opportunity”.
However, the most important benefit of networking arguably isn’t in the fact that it can boost your prospective career opportunities, but that it positively develops you as an individual. Let’s face it, some people are more shy than others, and this is a big reason why you could be reluctant to network. But taking the step to move outside of your comfort zone, experience something new and speak to people you normally might not will prove invaluable in improving your confidence.
So rather than hissing at the mere mention of networking, let’s start seeing it more as a cure than a chore. Reap the rewards of meeting new people and opening new doors that could lead to countless possibilities. Here are some top tips on how best to go about networking:
- Attend networking events, careers fairs and industry events: these are great ways to meet people and learn more about different sectors. It’s also a brilliant way to connect with professionals and share details.
- Keep it brief: obviously you want to chat to specific people and learn more, but be aware that during events people want to talk to others and may have certain priorities.
- Make sure you get people’s details: it might seem obvious, but a lot of people forget. Whilst business cards aren’t entirely necessary, ensure you bring a pen and notepad.
- Keep in touch: don’t just forget to email or message people you have networked with. A good idea is to email the person the day after you’ve met them. If you don’t see an immediate opportunity arise out of a contact you’ve made, don’t just forget them, keep them up-to-date with your relevant activities.
- Don’t stalk people: whilst it’s good to demonstrate that you are keen to speak to people, you want to make them feel comfortable. If you’re unable to speak to them during an event, try and find their email elsewhere i.e. Linkedin or business website.
- Create a Linkedin account: Linkedin is a really useful tool to use to network online. Ensure that you make your account look good and update it regularly. It’s a great way of communicating with professionals in different fields you may be interested in.
Useful articles on networking:
- The dos and don’ts of student networking – The Guardian
- The Importance of Career Networking – The Balance