Whether it be the amount of business cards in your wallet or your number of connections on LinkedIn, here are five tips to help expand your networks at university. (Image source: Getty Images/The Seattle Times)
By Peter Mourtzios
So … networking … what is it?
When you hear the word “networking” your mind clicks – and thinks of social networking, like your followers on Instagram and friends on Facebook. According to the dictionary, a network is simply a group or system of interconnected people or things.
Networking in a professional scenario is similar to social media, but you’re establishing connections with like-minded individuals in your field. They could be anyone from your lecturers or tutors to recent graduates or industry professionals.
You might not have heard of networking in your classes at uni, and that’s not necessarily because your mind had wandered off to a dreamy land outside the university walls! It just isn’t part of most course outlines, which tend to focus on content, knowledge and application. You need those too, but networking is where you develop professional, meaningful relationships with others who will help pave the way to a future career. It’s never too early to start.
Although networking may seem boring or even meaningless while you are studying, as you progress through your degree and through the professional scene, and your network gets bigger, your connections will be able to vouch for you and maybe offer you an internship position, job, promotion or even more! Employers are becoming more and more interested to see a long-term commitment to goals, which is indicative of employees who will stay longer and engage more actively in promoting the company.
So, while you might not think networking is the most exciting thing out there, the “future you” walking off the stage at your graduation, securing that job or having the clout to say what you want to say and be listened to, will definitely thank you for having gotten out there! As they say, it’s not (just) what you know, but who you know … so don’t underestimate the value of connecting with other positive and enthusiastic people. The person you sit next to today in your lecture might be someone who gets a break first, and one day can help you to get the same, or vice versa.
Positivity and enthusiasm are absolutely crucial to “going places”. Guess what? Employers, who want their business or company to “go somewhere” also want individuals who are pro-active, and make the effort to get where they want to be. (After all, if you don’t care enough to do it for yourself, why would you do it for your employer?) Makes sense!
Here are five handy networking tips to help you get started:
1. Build networking into your daily routine
Networking with strangers can seem daunting, but you can start building up your connections through simple everyday actions: engaging with your classmates, chatting with lecturers/tutors and listening to what’s going on. The thing is, your lecturer is one of the most valuable assets you have as a student – they have industry insights, and have already helped some smart and nowwell-known individuals to succeed in the past. Sometimes these former students even notify lecturers about job opportunities …
2. Get involved on campus
Getting involved on campus brings numerous unexpected benefits such as making like-minded friends and building up your resume, showing that long term commitment and interest that employers want. Everything interactive that you do brings networking benefits. There are heaps of ways to get involved on campus, like joining professional, sporting or social clubs. If you are looking at a sector like business, management, marketing, or politics, volunteering for club roles will not only look great, but give you some experience in organisational management in a friendlier setting! Additionally, assisting with student media or at university events gets you out on the front line of development of ideas and change, taking part, helping out, and thinking about ways forward. Through this, you will of course connect with other students, but at events you’ll also be able to connect with guest speakers who will value your dedication, which benefits both students and industry.
3. Meet with the careers team
Most universities have a free careers service which are a wealth of resources there specifically for you. You might already know that you can bring in your draft resume for a proof-read, but did you know that the careers team can help even more – with presentation, marketing and tailoring it for success? When it comes time for a job interview, they can help you ‘read’ the position, make sure it’s right for you, and give you tips on how to get it!
Chances are you might not be actively seeking an internship or job right now, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t benefits to meeting the careers team sooner rather than later. You can find out when and where job expos are, and staff have diverse backgrounds and experience: there might even be someone who has some industry contacts or knowledge of events that they can recommend for you personally, now that they know you. It’s worth becoming a familiar face … networking!
4. Be open to making new connections
Establishing connections is a goal that seems tough, but the truth is that it could happen anywhere and anytime – from the person you sit next to on the bus to university, to a quick casual chat in the line at the coffee shop on campus. You just never know; these people might be industry professionals or become your fellow colleagues one day. The ability to adapt to new situations and people is also a great asset and a 100 per cent transferrable skill. In today’s fast-moving world, we don’t always have enough time to “get things perfect”; we need to keep moving and think on the run. Employers can see those who will be able to do that – it shows in the interview. Absolutely every single situation you experience on a day-to-day basis offers you opportunities that you can take or miss … what will you do with them?
5. Attend industry events and conferences as a student delegate
Many industry events are free, and those which aren’t often offer big student discounts to encourage along tomorrow’s brains trust in the industry (that’s you, by the way). Your future employers willbe there, even if you aren’t – they’ll be watching who is keen enough to come along. They also want to know that the graduates they are going to employ know what they are getting themselves into, and that they like being part of the industry’s collective identity. So, stay for the food and drinks (usually free!), and make the effort to smile and introduce yourself to the person next to you. Over the time you are at university you have a great chance to market your own brand and put your name out there as someone that employers can’t do without. If you’re super-keen in first year, and you keep seeing these industry reps for the next few years as well as stay enthusiastic while you get your skills and training, once you’ve graduated, they’ll be tripping over each other to offer you their next position.
Enough said! Now you’ve got a few of the fundamental ideas around why it’s worth networking while you’re at uni (and let’s face it … career advancement is the biggest motivator for university students).
So, don’t wait. Don’t procrastinate. Don’t sigh about how tough it’s going to be. It’s actually not that bad, so just keep on doing what you do, and see how much networking you can build in to your student life. Once you’ve started, you might even see how much potential there has always been, that you just didn’t notice.
Ready, set … and network away!