For some the path to that perfect career is straightforward. For most the path is not so simple. Unless you undertake a vocational degree such as medicine, dentistry or engineering, what you should do after graduating can be confusing. However, there is a solution. There is something you can do to make things clearer. You can network.
So what is networking and why is it important?
If asked for a formal definition I would say that networking is about interact with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts. As a graduate it is important to capitalise on all opportunities to meet, talk to and link up with industry leaders, either in a formal or informal setting.
The volume of career resources online is on the rise, and may lead some to think that they can start and progress their career with this as their only or principal source of information. The reality is that with the job market becoming more competitive, the saying ‘it's not what you know but who you know’ increasingly rings true. By taking the time to network you have greater influence on how your career progresses.
How to successfully network
Sadly there isn't one simple approach to networking. Different techniques work better for some people than others. The key skill networking tests is communication and the first step to effective networking is keeping a lookout for events your university organise for you to meet future employers. Also, don’t forget your department and alumni.
Suppose you have attended an event and find someone who works in the area you are interested in. If you start the conversation by bombarding the individual with questions, becoming overbearing, you will most likely be politely given a wide berth. In contrast, you will more likely receive a positive response if you approach the conversation in a calm and considered way. Ask questions about their career path, why they picked that particular company and what they enjoy most about their work. The skill is to build a positive relation in a very short period. Obviously do not dwindle with your responses and show a genuine interest in what they say. If you come across as bored or un-engaged the chances are that you are not making a favourable impact.
The importance of following-up
Great, you have developed a good rapport and they gave you their contact details. Now what? The mistake often made is to assume that networking ends when the initial contact finishes, or that the person will contact you! Following up the contact a couple of days later is a must. Not only will this help you assess the effectiveness of your earlier networking effort – does the person take your call and remember you, but it creates the opportunity to further strengthen the rapport. It may be appropriate to express your interest to meet again. The reply will be a positive yes, a guarded yes or a polite no. At the end of the day it's important to read between the lines, specifically the tone of the reply. Overall you need to judge whether or not that relationship has a life.
Networking is one of those skills that does not come natural to many people, but the skill is important in the world of work. Thankfully with practice and experience the process of networking becomes easier. Although your ultimate goal is to get onto an internship or a graduate programme, at the early stages of networking it is not recommended to be too direct. Remember, “first you need to get along, before you can get along.”