For many, networking can sound intimidating. Students especially, can often see it as something reserved for the older generation of business people, who attend conferences and other professional events. However the sooner you start your networking, the better, as it is an integral part to building a successful career. In business, it is all about who you know and networking opens the door to job opportunities you may otherwise miss, which is why it is so important.
You may not be attending business meetings or conferences just yet, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have a number of networking opportunities in your day to day life right now.
Your Current Contact List
· Teachers and Tutors
Teachers, lecturers and college tutors are invaluable contacts to have, so ensure to build a good working relationship with them while you are still in education. They have been in the industry for years and will have a vast network of contacts that they can extend to you. Academics are regularly informed of upcoming positions in companies and are always willing to pass these on to their students.
From school to university, classmates are a valuable resource for your professional network. This does not mean you have to be friends with everyone, but respect each person you meet and pave the way for a possible professional relationship in the future.
· Career Fairs
Students may not have many conferences to attend, but they do have career fairs. There are a great number of these held in Ireland every year, right around the country. They give you the opportunity to meet the faces behind large companies and organisations and to find out more about what they do. It is crucial to attend career fairs as a student, as it gives you the opportunity to meet important people in the industry and make vital contacts.
Alumni from your university or school can often return to give talks and to attend networking events. Make sure to attend these events and talks if you can, as alumni can provide you with their experience and knowledge as a graduate.
· Work Placements
Many students will partake in work placements during the course of their student life and these are one of the best ways to gain professional contacts. Even if you are only in the placement for a short period, make sure to stay in contact with colleagues once it is over.
Tips for Networking
Ask open ended questions to keep conversations with contacts flowing and to get to know them as best you can. Remember the 80/20 rule: listen for 80pc of the conversation and talk for 20pc. This allows the person to feel important and respected.
· Remember Names
Take note of people’s names when you meet them and make a concentrated effort to remember it. People are pleasantly surprised when you remember their name and it can help improve your relationship.
· Attend Career and Job Fairs
As a student, attending these events is hugely beneficial to your future career, so it is crucial that you conduct yourself properly at them; dress to impress and behave in a professional manner, being polite and courteous to everyone you meet. Remember to have a number of copies of your CV and contact details at hand. It is worth more to you to come away from these events with a potential contact, rather than a handful of free merchandise.
· Clean Up Your History
The biggest mistake students can make is leaving an undesirable online footprint. While certain photos and posts may be suitable for your friends’ consumption, they are not for potential contacts and employers. Set your social media pages to private if you have anything online you would prefer to remain unseen.
· Get Online
Students are without a doubt, the most familiar generation with social media, which is why it is vital for you to use this to your advantage when building your professional network. LinkedIn is a particularly valuable resource, as it is a dedicated professional network, where you can add your contacts, see potential job opportunities and join discussion forums that are relevant to your career and area of expertise.
· Get a Business Card
This may sound unnecessary for anyone straight out of college, however it is one of the most effective ways of networking. There are a number of companies offering great deals on a set number of cards and of a high quality standard. Always have a number of cards with you for whenever you meet any potential new contacts.
· Follow Up
After meeting a contact, always follow it up with an email or a phone call, or send them an invitation on LinkedIn. If you promised you would send them on any information or do anything for them, do it as soon as possible.
· Everyone is Equal
When networking, treat everyone as a potential contact. Increasingly in business, it can often be those in the most casual attire who are the most important, so do not take anyone for granted and don’t judge a book by its cover. Being polite and courteous to everyone increases the number of potential contacts you will make.
By Kay Kinsella, CPA Ireland