I was delighted to recently meet Rose Olesen at a networking event and Drishya Prasad through online networking, who are both studying Marketing at Griffith University. Here the two international students share their experiences about networking with industry professionals and why it’s such an important part of your career development.
To put it simply, these days networking is a necessity. Professional networks are windows of chance that can open both business and job opportunities. Networking helps you gain industry insights, along with introductions that potentially lead to better referrals, career advancement and business opportunities. Apart from creating a connection with industry experts, networking also provides a valuable source of new perspectives and ideas to advance your professional development.
Success in your career is largely attributed to the pool of information or ideas you have garnered from various people, so never underestimate the importance of meeting people who share similar interests. Ask the right questions and you’ll not only gain insights into how they progressed up their career ladder, but you’ll walk away inspired with a thirst to work harder and dream bigger.
University is the foundation block in learning and enhancing the skills and knowledge required for your profession. Yet despite having theoretical knowledge, we often tend to lack the practical and professional skills which are equally as important when you want to start your career.
When we start at university we don’t always know what we want out of the degree or what opportunities are available to us through our study program (trust us, this is completely normal) and while your education provides the basis for understanding your profession, there’s no teacher like hands on experience. Even when you land that first job you may still lack the professional skills in knowing how to interact with professionals in your field and that can hinder your ability and confidence to grow in your job.
Participating in networking events teaches you how to present yourself and build relationships by interacting with professionals your industry. You also gain insights and ideas as to the kind of jobs available within your profession, just by talking to and learning from those who have travelled the path before you.
For some people, especially extroverts, the prospect of walking up to a complete stranger and opening a conversation comes easily, but many find it extremely challenging, if not terrifying, and avoid networking altogether. As an international student there may be cultural differences or even language barriers if you’re not particularly confident with your English when it comes to networking, but there are ways to overcome this, that’s why we’ve compiled a guide to help you prepare and excel at networking without feeling too overwhelmed.
Networking can be quite scary, it’s like going on a blind date where you have no idea who you’re going to meet. Just the fact that you’re embracing this opportunity is the first step.
Here’s some considerations to think about before you take that step into the unknown:
1. What is your goal with the event? And what is your “WHY” for this event?
Setting yourself goals for a networking event clarifies your purpose for being there and allows you to focus on the achievable.
“Once you’ve got your “WHY”, you then want to figure out your “WHO”. How many people do you want to connect with to help you achieve your why? Usually I aim for three, it’s a nice number. Two is usually not enough and four can sometimes provide too many options. Three is like the ‘Goldilocks’ of numbers when connecting with people” – Krystle Divertie at Krystle Clear Solutions.
2.Who are you?
At a networking event, you are marketing yourself – your general introduction should be clear, crisp, and stand out. You should be able to explain clearly your interests or passions (irrespective of whether you know what your exact career goals are), as this creates a positive impression. It is also a great resource to print business cards or contact cards at a networking event.
Pro Tip! It’s important that you do not tell any attendees at the event that you don’t know what kind of job you want when you graduate. You might be unsure, but you could miss an opportunity. Keep an open mind when it comes to your career options.
3. First impressions count!
The first impression is the key difference when networking. You usually only have a few minutes to chat with someone at an event so try and build a rapport with them as quickly as possible to make a connection. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have a few fails here and there, but make sure you dress to impress and remember your body language. Pump yourself up with confidence before going to the event by dancing in the shower, singing in front of the mirror, or telling yourself that you’re amazing! Above all, believe in yourself – you are special because there’s only one YOU!
4. Who are they and what experience do they have?
A networking event is not always just about you talking and telling your story. It’s important (and polite) to ask them questions about their journey to becoming the industry leader they are today. It’s always a good idea to do some homework on the guests before the event. The easiest way to do that is via LinkedIn, while a Google search can provide links to media interviews which can reveal a lot about a person’s background. Those industry professionals will be so impressed not only that you know who they are, but also the background to their careers.
Pro Tip! A good rule of thumb is to plan ahead: Have a few general discussion or topic of conversation points in mind as this can make the process less overwhelming. They don’t necessarily have to be about career and work but can also be about hobbies, ideas or general news – these are great conversation starters. Even if you don’t know anything about the person there’s always some generic questions you can ask them to get the ball rolling. For example:
“What is your profession and how did you get there?”
“Can you tell me about your journey to becoming x,y,z?”
“How did you land your first job?”
“What is your best tip for a uni student like me?”
“If you could give your younger self advice while you were in uni, what would it be?”
“What is the industry expectation for first time graduates?”
After you’ve attended a networking event the first thing to do is to ensure that your LinkedIn profile is up to date. The basics can cover your bag in the beginning, but remember this is the platform for you to connect with professionals, so you want to stand out here! Talk with your career advisor on how you can turn your Maccas job into something that can be pretty useful in your professional career.
Next, you want to connect with people and stay connected! This is a long term goal for when you finish studying. Remember to ask for their business card or write down their names and something that makes you remember who they are in your notes on your phone.
It’s a great idea to connect with them via LinkedIn as soon as you can (the next day preferably). When you send your invitation make sure you include a personal note about how great it was to meet them. You can also reference something you discussed or something that happened at the event. Don’t go into too much detail, keep it brief and professional. By following up with the person you are acknowledging the time you spent with them and solidifying your relationship with them.
An example of a LinkedIn follow up:
It was lovely to connect and chat with you at the xyz event last night. I found your professional story and the industry expectations insightful, providing me with a valuable guide on my career journey.
On a personal note I really enjoyed meeting you and if you have time in the near future I’d love to catch up for a coffee to explore my career options.
Pro tip! If you’re looking to improve your LinkedIn profile, book Sally Watson in for a session here.
The last word
Participating in networking events teaches you how to present yourself, how to build relationships and curate ideas. By being prepared and proactive with your follow ups you can make sure you get the most out of it. Good luck!