Guest blog by Victoria Tomlinson, chief executive of Northern Lights PR and author of From student to salary with social media.
Are you terrified of walking into a room full of strangers? Everyone talks about networking and this is the way to get a job – but what does it really mean? And how you can ensure you are the most successful networker in the room, even if you are the shyest person?
1. Research and prepare
Networking is just like a job interview. The more prepared you are, the more you will be in control and spot opportunities. And the less likely you are to be thrown by the unexpected. Make networking part of your jobhunting strategy – more tips in our three year success plan for students.
Here a few ways to prepare for an event. Who are you going to meet – professionals, employers, alumni? Work out what you can from the invitation and if you can’t find what you need, ask the organiser. They won’t mind – they will be delighted you are taking this seriously.
Questions to ask
- Who is going to the event, how many people, what are they expecting?
- Can you have a guest list in advance? Or the invitation list?
- How long is the event, what’s the format – a talk, questions, drinks and how much time for networking?
- Which room is it in – can you go and have a look in advance?
All of this will help you to feel and be comfortable with the event. Now to plan your strategy.
2. Who do you want to work for?
Check out the guest list. Which companies would you like to work for? Have you done any projects in similar companies?
Check out the names of people coming and their job titles. Look them up on LinkedIn – you should find around 80% of those coming will be on this social media. The sort of things to look for are
- Where did they go to university, what course did they do?
- What was their first job?
- What career path?
Jot down notes of anyone who looks particularly interesting or you have something in common with. Also anything that really impresses yo
3. Is your LinkedIn profile 100% complete?
You can use LinkedIn to help with your research. Potential employers can use LinkedIn to check you out. Make sure you have a professional photo and that it is 100% complete. Is it clear what job you are looking for?
4. Target three employers
From all this research, produce a target list of five employers who you would like to work for – and a top three of these. You need a few extra in hand – unfortunately most networking events have a lot of no shows.
5. Set yourself a target for the event
What is realistic to achieve from the evening? Did you notice if your dream companies are advertising jobs that you could do? Could you get work experience there?
Or you may be doing a project that could interest a target company – and introduce them to other businesses?
6. Be interested in others
Now you are ready for the event. You know who you want to meet, what you want out of it. Keep that at the back of your mind.
As you walk into that room, you are NOT there to tell others about this, but you are going to be interested in everyone you meet and ask lots of questions. You are armed with lots of information to help you do this.
Find the people you want to meet and try some of these conversation openers
- I saw you are expanding into China – is that proving exciting or challenging?
- I see you are an alumnus of York – and you did the same course as I’m doing. Have you found it useful in your career?
- I did a bit of research on a few people and spotted that you went into [xyz] straight from university. That’s what I’m hoping to do – have you got any advice?
People will love that you have prepared for an event – you will stand out. They will be flattered that you are interested in their company and them. And you are asking for their advice and tips. And most people are more than happy to pass on tips.
7. Listen for opportunities
Be interested in the conversation. Look for a chance to ask ‘are you offering any placements this summer? What is the best way to apply for those?’
8. Ask for their card
Ask for their card and also ask ‘Are you on LinkedIn? Could I connect with you?’
Make notes on the card of any opportunities or if they ask you to send your CV.
9. Follow up
Serious networkers will go home from an event, get out their laptop and follow up on all the conversations they had that evening. You will demonstrate how serious you are about getting experience, contacts and a job.
If you said you were going to connect on LinkedIn, then do. Or if you said you would send a copy of research or introduce them to someone. Thank them for any advice and say how you plan to use this.
10. Stay in touch
Draw up a spreadsheet of people you have met and make a note to follow up – either when you said or maybe in two or three months’ time.
Maybe do a personal note when you get your degree results, ‘I thought you would like to know I got a 2:1 and the tips you gave me were really helpful. Thank you for your time and help.’ It doesn’t have to be long – people like to think that any advice they offered is useful.
And if you follow all this, there is a high chance of your being offered work experience, introductions – and being front of mind when someone is recruiting.
Of course, the one thing you also need to remember – networking events are not for fun and drinking! Keep a clear head – this is serious business!