Networking: it’s one of the most efficient job-hunting strategies – but also one of the most misunderstood
For some of us it’s a terrifying concept, akin to grovelling, or worse still schmoozing with a room full of terrifying strangers. Yet, unlikely as it sounds, using your contacts to land a job is very much the accepted norm for graduates. And as any careers expert will tell you: networking is how the job world works. What’s crucial is to network sensibly. This can mean a number of things: speaking to friends, family, lecturers for leads, chatting to employers at presentations or careers fairs, informational interviewing, even setting up your own networking blog on the net.
If you’re a social butterfly you may find it all very easy, but if you are more retiring, the concept might appear too daunting for comfort, even if you understand its value. If this is the case, remember that most people misunderstand networking: it’s not about asking for a job – it’s all about gathering information.
TEN TOP TIPS
See it as gathering information, rather than begging for a job. Speaking to people is particularly important if you are looking to get into an industry but lack the qualifications or experience.
Do your homework. Before you speak to anyone, or in advance of any function, do some research. Also, think carefully about the kind of questions you want to ask about your preferred company and industry. Remember the value of asking sensible questions. Never leave a function wishing you had introduced yourself to someone.
Use your careers service. Many university careers services have a database, largely composed of alumni (think ‘contacts on tap’). Also watch out for company presentations and careers fairs, where you can speak to employees.
Use informational interviews. Write a letter to ask for 10 minutes with a member of staff in an industry or company you want to work in. If it’s not too formal, you can suggest that you pop into the nearest café and buy them their favourite sandwich and a latte. It might be just to talk about what employers really look for: how to get in; what are the best and worst things about their job; and do they have any other leads you could chase?
Don’t assume that you’re being a pest. Most people do feel uncomfortable about approaching others in this way. But as long as you are respectful of their position and time, most people adore talking about themselves. Again, showing that you’ve done good research will flatter people and encourage them to open up.
Contact organisations, even if they don’t have vacancies. Use the web to research companies for informational interviews. Alternatively, look at newspaper vacancies for jobs that may not be at your level. Even if the ad is for a senior position, the company might also be interested in graduates. You don’t know, but you can write in and find out.
Networking still works for blue-chips. Large firms hire through very formal, assessed means. But if you have conducted informational interviews in related companies or, even better, spent time speaking to someone in the firm (preferably someone more senior than the PR-friendly grads at careers fairs), employers will be impressed and more receptive to you. Don’t forget the person’s name.
Tell everyone you’re looking. This includes family, friends and people on your course. You might be shocked by what turns up in your own backyard. Academic staff, especially in business, science and engineering departments, might also have excellent links with local industry and commerce, which could help you develop your network.
Think about secondary contacts. Try less obvious resources such as student societies, professional organisations, even internet chat rooms and long-lost contacts. "People go around talking to their relatives asking for leads for jobs when research has already indicated that’s not where you should invest all your energy," says Richard Bolles the author of What Color is Your Parachute. "You have to be able to say ‘who are the people I barely know?’ ‘Who are the people I haven’t seen in five years?’ Those are the people I need to get in touch with."
It’s about them. When you meet contacts, shift the focus on to them, rather than concentrating on your own needs. Ask about their careers, what they would do if they were in your position, or to refer you to further contacts, for example by asking, "Given my background, is there anyone else you suggest I speak to?"
ADVICE FROM THE EXPERT FIND ‘GUARANTEED JOY’!
For ten years Carole Stone was the producer of BBC Radio 4′s current affairs programme Any Questions? Now a freelance broadcaster and writer, Carole has published two books: Networking – the art of making friends (2000), and The Ultimate Guide to Successful Networking (2004). Here she gives her tips on successful networking.
"Admirable though it is to do well in your exams (and I think it is), it is also vital to equip yourself with the ability to network, to make contact with other people. The fact is that while you must have the right qualifications it’s more likely than not that you’ll get the job you want through people you know.
"Learning to deal with the people you meet in life is every bit as important as academic success. For me, networking is about making the most of the people you meet, to your mutual advantage. And you should start now, it is never too early. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a shy person (I was very shy in my late teens and early twenties), once you take an interest in other people you forget how you feel and really start listening to what they have to say.
"You need to be known as someone who is reliable, and delivers on whatever you promise – even if it’s just providing a phone number. If you are generous with your own contacts then you’ll find people will be more likely to help you out when you need a name or personal advice – or think of you when they hear of a good job going.
"For example, try to remember that birthday, or that important meeting coming up for someone you know well, and give them a call or send a friendly message. Another way of keeping in touch is to hold a regular weekly or monthly get-together. It’s just a matter of letting it be known that you’ll be at a certain venue, on a certain day, at a certain time. It’s a good way of meeting someone a second time who you don’t perhaps know quite well enough to invite to a meal. Networking can be good for both your personal and professional progress. And I guarantee you’ll find that bringing people together, making friends, is truly one of the real joys of life."