Networking is not like an exam; it is hard to define and can appear in many different forms in all kinds of contexts. But that does not mean you cannot prepare.
Here are our top five tips from Careers Service staff and University of Bristol alumni to help you find your own connection style and build a network to help you get your career where you want it to be.
Look your best
While you might not be pressing your formal wear at the moment, you do need to be aware of your professional appearance. Specifically, your online profile. Search your name online, check your personal social media profile privacy settings, and consider if you are presenting yourself as you would like your future employers to find you.
Renovate your LinkedIn page
Think of your LinkedIn profile as a combination of your CV and a shop window. Get all your information up to date, draw attention to your unique selling points, and let your network know who you are, where you’ve come from, and where you’re going. At the Careers Service, we put on regular events all about LinkedIn, find out more on mycareer.
Decide on your game plan
Why are you looking to build your network? Is it to find graduate job opportunities? Do you want to build commercial awareness in a particular sector? You will find that people you meet in person and online are generally very helpful, but you need to be able to articulate how they can help you and why you want to connect with them.
Realise your worth
Networking is not all about how other people can help you. You also have a great deal to offer your connections. Not least, an opportunity for them to feel like an expert and enjoy being able to help, as others will certainly have helped them at some point when they started their career journey.
Amy, who graduated in Law in 2013, told us: “A young person’s key differentiator isn’t that they know more than others who have spent years in the industry. It is that you are sharp, keen to learn and have potential.”
Less is more
Networking is not a numbers game. Focus on genuine connections with people who are in a position to offer you real insight and useful information relevant to your future plans. Be friendly when you approach people, but err on the side of formality at first. Make your message concise, tell them who you are and why you want to talk to them. People like to be helpful but may be put off if they sense that you’ve cut and paste an opening line or if they find your initial approach too demanding.
Josh, who graduated in English Literature in 2015, says: “Don’t be shy – I always used to think that reaching out to people I didn’t know was in some way annoying them and or coming with some sort of ulterior motive. Most people will be happy to help (and being asked about what someone does is also in part quite flattering – most people are very happy to talk about themselves!).”
Remember, networking is really just a term for having conversations with other people. You already have networks of some kind, which might include your friends, former colleagues, someone you met during work experience, sports teammates, and really anyone.
If you are not sure whether someone is in your network, ask yourself: would you be happy to help them if they asked for advice? If the answer is yes, you can safely assume they would also be happy to help you.