Not everybody likes the idea of networking. But, in a way, we’re all doing it.
Building relationships with people is a natural part of life. It’s only when you realize how useful personal connections can be for your career that you start to see it as ‘networking’.
In a world where the majority of positions are not publicly advertised, networking is simply not something you can afford to eschew – and it’s something you can never start actively doing too soon.
Networking is not about turning personal relationships into business ones, it’s about recognizing the merits and co-existence of both. Getting yourself out there and making connections is all you need do – you don’t build a professional network just by going out and selling yourself at every turn.
Now you’re convinced that networking is a top priority, we’ll take you through why it’s so good for you, how to do it better, and what you’ll miss out on by turning a blind eye.
You (probably) already are!
As a student, you’ve (probably) already started your professional network without intending to. Relationships that you’ve developed with your classmates, other students – and with your teachers – may all prove themselves invaluable in the future.
While networking may not guarantee you a job through your network, having the right connections can go a long way, and at the very least introduces you to otherwise unknown opportunities.
There is a truth to the “six degrees of separation” idea – the claim that you are only six people away from knowing every other human being on the planet. Chances are that at some point in your career a personal connection will prove vital, or pay off somehow in a big way.
Beat the competition
In the majority of European countries, the percentage of the labour market that can boast a bachelor’s and a master’s degree is growing in size every year.
In Denmark, for example, the number of applicants for university education has been growing at around 5% per year, while approximately 85% of university graduates in Denmark are in employment (higher than the OECD average). While Denmark is a European leader when it comes to education (roughly 8% of its GDP is invested in education), it has average overall educational levels among recent graduates when compared to the rest of Europe.
This essentially means that the job market is becoming increasingly competitive – everywhere in Europe.
Graduates must use all the tools that are available to them to improve their chances of finding employment. Maintaining and building a professional network may seem like common sense to some, but many students don’t begin thinking about this seriously until they wrap up their studies and enter the job market.
By actively networking while still a student, or as soon as possible after graduating, you’ll get a jump on the rest and might just land that dream job before someone else does.
How to get connected
Work and play
Many people find that having a part-time student job, interning at relevant companies, or volunteering during your studies are great ways to get their foot in the door and improve their CV. They’re also great ways to start building your network – and this part might end up being more valuable than the entries on your CV.
While this is effective, not everyone may have the time or the resources to work or volunteer while they study.
Whatever field you are aiming for a career in, you will improve your chances by socialising and making connections with people in your field. This doesn’t mean you need to ditch your other friends, but you should always consider the bigger picture when organizing your social calendar.
(Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. You should also get in touch and maintain contact with people in others industries to help smooth the transition if you ever decide to change career path.)
Your 5-point networking plan
Networking takes time, but there are five essential ways you can start building and maintaining your network today:
- Use LinkedIn. LinkedIn is the go-to social network for professionals from across the world. Why not control what they see and present yourself as a highly valuable candidate? You can showcase some of your work, get references from your peers, lecturers and employers, and illustrate your skills. This will ensure that recruiters take your profile into serious consideration when assessing applicants. Recruiters will be able to see your connections and, if you are connected with a current employee, they may request a reference from them.
- Use Facebook (professionally). While it is better known for informality, Facebook is one the largest social media platforms, with over 1 billion active users – meaning you can connect with almost anyone. This means that you are more likely to be researched by recruiters on Facebook than elsewhere. It’s a good idea to maintain a professional(ish) and approachable profile, and to give some solid indications of what you do on your profile.
- Go to formal events. Corporate and industry events are a great way to make a lasting impact on people in your field. There are many opportunities in most cities to connect with relevant peers. Universities often host talks from industry veterans and career days where you can meet prospective employers. You can also check out Virtual Career Fairs on Graduateland. Remember to do your research so you are prepared to talk to guest speakers and recruiters.
- Go to informal events. Social events at your university or workplace are a perfect opportunity to get to know your colleagues and fellow students. Any good conversations should be followed up with an invitation to connect on the social networks that you use, as well as an invitation to check out your work if relevant. Next time, you can mention what it is you’re interested in doing (if you haven’t already).
- Find a mentor. Mentorships are great for students and graduates at any stage of their career. A mentor can guide you through the best ways to network in a particular industry, introduce you to relevant contacts, help you determine your professional direction, and (most importantly) provide you with a reference that will add credibility to your applications. Just reach out to someone experienced with a request for guidance (remember to include why you chose them and what you expect from their mentorship).
Failing to prepare is preparing to fail
It should be abundantly clear by now what you can gain from actively networking.
By growing your professional network you will also be growing your social network, and you’ll be both increasing your chances of landing great job opportunities and learning from others about how to make the most of your career.
And it should be equally clear to see how you can get started.
But before you go out there and start networking you should ask yourself two questions in order to prepare for any encounter with professional peers and potential employers.
These questions will help you communicate who you are and ensure you appear as professional as possible:
What is your personal brand? Try to think about your vision, values, passions, goals, and your core competences. Your personal brand will, of course, differ depending on who you are and who your audience is.
What is your elevator pitch? An elevator pitch is basically the best (and most concise) introduction, or summary, of who you are and why you do what you do. It allows you to “pitch” your personal brand as well as your qualifications and skills in the time it takes to ride an elevator with a potential employer – or with the next addition to your professional network.
Staying competitive in today's job market and getting a positive start in your career will require a lot of time and effort. Actively networking will help you get there and allow you to meet your professional goals.