A mention of the word “networking” is enough to leave most undergraduates (and new graduates) quaking in their boots, but it doesn’t need to be that terrifying. Check out these top tips and if in doubt, grab whatever free canapés are on offer and head for the hills…
Grown-ups don’t like it either
One of my greatest comforts in networking is the fact I recently discovered that a lot of real adults (with real jobs and real lives!) also hate it. My dad for example, who is a great “people person” and can chat to anyone, hates networking events.
Equally, a woman I recently met at a networking event who held a very impressive position in a very impressive company was as reluctant as we were to leave our conversation, and find new people to talk to. The fact that everyone is nervous should lessen your nerves and help you remember that everyone is human, whatever their job title.
Get a starting buddy
That said, networking is, undeniably, a nerve-wracking experience. A good way to take the edge off it is to get yourself a buddy for the start of the event. Whether you arrive together or they’re simply someone you end up talking to as the event begins, it gives you a little safety blanket in case you run out of things to say.
Of course, you by no means have to stick with your buddy and you’ll probably find that you start talking to different people by the end, but it’s always a great starting point.
Ask people about themselves: they’ll ask you about you
In a nutshell, people like to talk about themselves. Although there’s often a lot of pressure on networking events in terms of careers, it’s more often an opportunity for someone to sell their career or company to you than it is for you to try and find a job. Rather than go in all guns blazing with complex questions you don’t understand or a fake personality that will crumble after a few minutes’ conversation, if you ask people questions about their work and experiences, you’ll find that the conversation flows much better. A good chat makes a better impression than half an hour of bragging.
Crucially, bear in mind that, clichéd as it is, there is no such thing as a stupid question: if you don’t understand something, ask someone. They’ll be pleased to see that you’re both paying attention and have a genuine interest.
Only speak if you have something to say
Finally, the biggest thing to remember about networking is not to be pressured into it. A lot of talks have opportunities for networking afterwards but sometimes, even if you’ve enjoyed a talk, you won’t have questions or you’ll want to go away and have a think about it.
That’s fine, don’t force yourself to speak. If you have a genuine interest, it will be obvious and if you have one question, you get an answer and you go home, that’s also fine. It’s an opportunity not an obligation.
Do you have any more networking tips for students? Let us know in the comments below!
Photo: Sean MacEntee / Flickr