Networking for life
Networking is about building relationships with people. It is not contacting everyone you know when you are looking for a job and asking if they know of any job openings. Networking is the art of building alliances and starts long before a job search begins. Although you may think the main reason you should network is to find a job, there are many other reasons your network could provide assistance to all aspects of your life and where you could assist and support others.
Brilliant Networking’s top seven reasons to network
- Meet new people. Through networking, you can find customers, partners, investors, mentors and friends.
- Provides you with the information you need to make decisions. Often you will find out something you did not know you were looking for.
- Connects you to expertise and resources whether you are looking for someone to give you marketing advice for your new business or who will do a house swap with you for the summer.
- Leads you to getting the job of your dreams, being promoted within your job or making a career move.
- Helps you solve dilemmas and problems and enables you to work with others to find common solutions.
- Assists you with any goal that can benefit from the support of others. From losing weight to starting your own company, networking can help you achieve all your goals faster by connecting you to people who want to help.
- Allows you to share your experience, and give to others. The communities formed can do everything, from sharing music to using their skills and talents to change the world.
Have you ever been to a ‘networking event’? For many people this conjures up images of a room full of awkward people who don’t know each other trying to earnestly ‘network’. In reality, networking can be as simple as just talking to one other person. So, don’t feel you need to attend an ‘event’ to start networking. You might want to start small and local, such as attending an on-campus event on a topic you are interested in. In a safe, friendly environment, you can meet new people without any pressure.
Your networking aim should be to build relationships where each member of the network can provide others with support, assistance, connections, ideas, advice, and introductions. Maintaining a strong, successful network takes energy and commitment. You need to be prepared to devote the time to get to know people; this is how relationships are built. Meeting a lot of people once does not build a network.
Who could be in your network?
Your network can include people from all aspects of your life. Sometimes they will be able to help you, or connect you with someone who can. Think about the following when defining your network:
- Fellow students – by getting to know people in your course, people in other disciplines and year levels, you start to build a network. These are the same people who could be colleagues in your new professional life.
- Academic staff – these are the professionals in your discipline. It is a great idea to get to know them. Many will have contacts and advice to share. If you make a real effort in your interactions, they will remember you when they hear of opportunities for volunteer experiences, networking events, conferences, and grants.
- JCU support staff – Volunteering at the on-campus events is a great way to stand out and show you are a proactive student.
- Employers – take every opportunity to connect with employers when you are a student. Many opportunities will arise from the annual Careers Fair, online webinars, information sessions, and guest lectures. Often the local employers who connect with the university are JCU graduates who want to support students to succeed.
- Professional associations – join a relevant professional association and you will start to network with a group of like-minded individuals. Who knows what opportunities will come your way.
- Join a student club – this extra-curricular activity can be very useful in providing you with opportunities to meet people and perhaps even undertake a leadership role.
- JCU Alumni – you can search for JCU Alumni on the James Cook University LinkedIn
- Your friends and family – tap into your best source of supporters and mentors.
- Work colleagues and supervisors – past and present.
Action: Go to your downloaded workbook and complete Activity 3
Conversations with professionals
It’s not just what you know, it’s who you know and who knows you
Getting to know professionals in your field can assist you in many ways:
- Learn about their career path, their organisation, and emerging industry trends.
- Find out more about the types of experience, skills, and abilities you will need to succeed in your career.
- Find out about opportunities for now and in the future
- Tell them about YOU – your career plans, skills, ideas and abilities
Where are the opportunities to talk to professionals?
- Attend the Industry events. You will meet new people and connect with employers. If you make a good impression, they will remember you.
- Connect with professionals in your field on LinkedIn.
- Take part in webinars – ask questions and make comments.
- Attend professional development opportunities and get to know the local members of your Professional Association.
- Ask your network for an industry contact referral.
- Talk to the professionals on your placements or internships.
Make the most of every opportunity
Research and preparation will help you to make the most of any opportunity to have a conversation with a professional. Here are a few questions you might want to ask:
- How did you get started in this industry?
- What advice would you have for someone wanting to get started in this field?
- Can you take me through what you would do in an average day, week, and month?
- What do you like most/least about your work?
- What is most interesting about your work?
- What career pathways exist for graduates in your organisation?
- Can you recommend any extra courses or professional development I should consider doing?
- What professional memberships are most useful?
- What do you see as the opportunities heading into the future?
- What further training may be required after entry?
- What experience (paid or unpaid) would you encourage for anybody pursuing a career in this field?
- Is there anyone else you know that might be useful to talk to about this industry?
- What skills are considered most valuable in the industry?
- Just like first impressions, last impressions matter. Follow up with a thank you email and show your appreciation for their time and advice.
- Make notes about your research and a list of actions you will now take.
- If you are not already connected with your contact on LinkedIn, consider sending them a request so that you can stay in touch.
- If your contact gave you a contact or information on an opportunity, keep them informed of your progress.
Face-to-face networking events
Attending organised events is a great way to expand your network. For many people the idea of talking to strangers can be a bit daunting, but a little preparation will make all the difference.
Before the event
- Think about what you want to get from attending and who you want to meet.
- Plan a 30 second introduction (your elevator speech coming up in Topic 4). Imagine someone asking you “What brings you to this event”.
- Networking is a two-way street – have an idea of what help or contacts you might be able to offer others.
- Have a few neutral opening questions ready to use to get the conversation started.
At the event
- Arrive on time – this makes it easier to get chatting when numbers are smaller.
- The food and drinks area is often an easy place to start up a conversation.
- Learn to feel comfortable just moving around the room and observing for a while before you decide who to talk to.
- Smile, be positive, and interested.
- Listen carefully to others.
- Connect and introduce others.
- Mix and mingle – do not just talk to one person.
After the event
- Make notes about who you have met and what you have learned.
- Make sure you do any follow up you have promised e.g. sending someone a contact or some information.
- Research the contacts you made on LinkedIn and consider sending them a request – don’t forget to personalise your request.
- Send an email to any contacts you feel have been particularly helpful.
Tip: Choose the right kind of event. Networking might put you out of your comfort zone, but it shouldn’t make you feel overly anxious. There are options for all personality types if you find large events stressful – go to a presentation, a small meet-up, or panel Q&A session on a topic you are interested in instead.
Source: SEEK - A Complete Guide to Networking
Online networking events
The unprecedented events of 2020 have led to a rapid increase in online networking events. For JCU students this can mean access to events normally held in capital cities. Look out for:
- Virtual careers fairs
- Online employer presentations
- Employer Facebook live events
- Employer panels by JCU Careers and Employability
Make the most of these opportunities
- Do some research and preparation. Find out who the speakers are and search for them on LinkedIn. Discovering more about them can help you to ask thoughtful questions.
- Participate – join in the chat; let the speakers know you are enjoying the presentation.
- Follow up – send a thank you email or send a request to connect on LinkedIn
Professional associations and industry bodies
One way to develop professional connections and build your professional profile is to join a relevant Professional Association. Ask your lecturers or tutors for suggestions, or see the JCU career snapshots. Many associations offer reduced membership fees for students and some are even free. Membership benefits vary, but many offer:
- Industry events such as breakfasts, seminars, discussion groups on LinkedIn, networking functions, and conferences.
- Opportunities to volunteer at events and possibly gain free entry to some sessions.
- Members only Job Boards.
- Continuing professional development opportunities and courses to enhance your knowledge and skills.
- Mentoring programs – a good mentor is not only a long-term support, but also a great source of employment leads.
- Access to other essentials e.g. industry specific insurance, salary information and legal advice.
The benefits of stepping forward to become a volunteer are many and varied, but meeting a wide variety of people from your community and adding contacts to your professional network are two of the main ones. All your volunteer experiences, be they in a career relevant field or an area of personal interest, give you the opportunity to grow your networks. Ensure you maintain a professional image at all times as your contacts may be future referees or employers. Be ready to have conversations about your career plans and interests.
Conferences and speaker events
Attending conferences or speakers events are great ways to network with people who have similar interests to you, such as TEDx or employer events held on campus. Apart from the keynote speakers and interactive sessions, the social side of the event is where you can meet some interesting people to add to your network.
As with most events, preparation is helpful. Read the conference materials carefully and map out which sessions you will attend. Don’t forget to allow time for the social events – meal-times are good opportunities to introduce yourself to fellow delegates and start networking. If you want to stand out at your next conference, try these tips:
- Consider volunteering – event organisers always need help
- Host a session – do you have a topic of interest you could talk about?
- Ask good questions at the Q&A session
- Live tweet speakers – this will get you noticed
- Follow up with your new contacts