How To Network Better At University
Updated: Jan 13, 2020
Love it or hate it, networking is a huge part of university culture. Universities spend lots of money partnering with huge organisations, local businesses and career development schemes to help you enter the world of employability as seamlessly as possible.
For many students though, the prospect of networking is scary for a number of different reasons. Perhaps you don't know where to start when it comes to networking, perhaps you’re worried you might not know what to say – these things are totally normal, but they can certainly be helped.
In this article, we will be covering five tips that you can use to smash your next networking event. These tips include developing a more focused vision, all the way through to more practical skills like how to connect with organisations that may actually benefit your career aspirations. I hope they are of use to you!
Tip 1: Position Yourself First
When it comes to networking, it’s important to consider where you are currently positioned when it comes to your career.
Do you have an idea of what industry you would like to work in?
Are you looking for a specific type of job within an industry?
At this moment in time, are you just scouting the landscape for career inspiration?
Where you are in terms of career ideas and interests all inform the type of people and/or businesses that you may want to interact with, so don’t overlook what your long term goals or employability interests are before you attend your next event.
Tip 2: Do Some Research
Usually, Universities will publish a list that contains the names of the organisations that will be at their networking events. Have a look at that list and see if anyone catches your eye. Then think about what exactly attracts you to those companies or organisations. Is it their ethos, their graduate schemes...their influence/position within their market? Whatever it is, make sure you have an idea about what resonates with you about that company. It is also good to prepare a short plan of what you will say if you are asked “so, what do you think you could offer us?”. This is a question asked by companies and organisations to assess confidence and the ability to think on the spot. When considering what you would say in that situation, pay attention to skills that you possess that might benefit that organisation, any relevant experience you have relating to that business/industry and if applicable, your current or predicted level of performance at university.
Coming prepared to networking events is something that will separate you from a lot of students that show up “Just to look”. In the game of networking, being remembered is a key skill to master. Don't just show up, show up knowing who you are talking to and what you possess that could benefit them.
The same principle applies to people. If your university has a guest speaker coming to visit and you want to have a conversation, do some research on this person and identify what it is that resonates with you about them as well as what you think you could offer them. It is always flattering to have someone take the time to research you and your work, so doing so will earn you brownie points and increase your chances of being remembered!
Tip 3: Always Be Prepared To Give
Many students have a misconception that networking is about gain, gain, gain. I remember sitting in at a student conference in London one time, and a student rep during their speech said “Networking is about getting what you want from people”.
NO. NO IT’S NOT.
Networking is a giving game. A lot of businesses are aware that students are coming to talk to them about potential jobs, so they sometimes intentionally keep their cards to their chest to see what the student is about. A great way to impress in a networking interaction is to offer something to the person/organisation you are talking to. I’ll give you an example.
I once met a charity at a networking event that really resonated with me. I wanted to help out anyway that I could , so I volunteered for a year for free to help the charity better interact with young people through social media. This genuine want to help was recognised and deeply appreciated by the charity, so much so that they offered me a paid position doing the same role the year after. We still keep in touch regularly to this day.
The point is, genuineness is readable. This is why prior research is so important. If you are moved or motivated by an organisations mission, let them know that you will do whatever it takes to work with them in any capacity and demonstrate your value to them. Not only will this speak volumes about you as a person, it will also teach you a key component of networking – always be prepared to give.
Tip 4: Get A Well Connected Mentor
Networking doesn’t have to be as direct as going to an event and seeking out companies that resonate with you. If you have a well connected mentor that knows a lot of people within their industry, this could also be a great way to be introduced to more people within your field. I had several mentors at university. I attached myself to lecturers that I enjoyed working with and simply asked them if they had any ideas as to how I could be better connected to professionals within their field. As a result of my directness, I was introduced to people that weren’t at networking events that I didn’t have to compete with several hundred students just to be remembered. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and guidance when it comes to being connected with people within your industry – most of the time, your university is more than happy to help.
Tip 5: Maintain Networking Relationships
It is all well and good connecting with new people and expanding your network, but like a plant, networks need to be nurtured. Check in with your connections from time to time, ask if there is anything they need help with or just let them know that you are still around and interested in what the person/organisation has been doing. These things communicate professionalism, genuine interest and respect. This is likely to one, strengthen any existing networks you possess and two, develop a reputation amongst your peers as someone who is genuine and wanting of the networking relationship.
Those are five ways to nail networking this year. Let us know how this tips are working for you and if you feel we have missed any tips in this article, do feel free to drop us an email or connect with us on our social channels.
If you’d like to get your hands on some more Pinpoint content, we have an article on student success written by current university students here.
If you’d like to read pinpoints guide to impressing a potential employer, click here.
Thanks for reading!