Networking – many of us have a love/hate relationship with it. You’ve probably heard about the power of networking as a tool to enhance your job prospects, improve your interpersonal skills, stay on top of industry trends and, ultimately, advance your career. But if the thought of reaching out to strangers leaves you hyperventilating in a bag, fear not, we’ve got plenty of info to get you started!
Networking is about developing long-term relationships with others that are of mutual benefit, meaning it’s a give and take kind of thing. Whether you connect with someone through your studies, from your involvement in a sporting club, or even in the queue at your favourite coffee shop, there are often, and sometimes unforeseen, networking opportunities out there.
First, find your networking style – it’s not a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. You might not be comfortable ‘working the room’ at a large industry event, especially if you consider yourself an introvert. Maybe you’re a one-on-one conversation type. If this is more your style, try striking up a conversation with someone who is standing on their own at an event. They may even be grateful you approached them.
Second, and it sounds obvious, but be open to connecting with others. Does your body language make you approachable, or are you sending signals you want to be left alone? Keep in mind that networking is not limited to formal events or specific circumstances, it can take place anywhere and anytime.
I made a great contact years ago standing on a busy train, after accidentally bumping into them. When I apologised, she picked up on my Canadian accent and asked me where I was from. It turns out this complete stranger had done an exchange during her undergraduate degree, and had studied at the same university I attended, and was also now a career development professional. Small word, indeed! We exchanged LinkedIn details and over the years she has become a trusted ally.
Third, if you’re not really the type to start chatting to random strangers, think about who you already know. Talk to friends and relatives – they’re part of your network too. Got anyone in your family who’s working in your industry? How about your friends’ relatives? Tell everyone in your personal network that you’re looking to build connections in the industry, and you’d love an introduction. This is a great way to gain exposure within your industry and first-hand knowledge through professionals in your field.
A final tip – networking is not a selfish endeavour to help you progress your career. It’s not about shameless self-promotion, directly asking contacts for a job, or pretending to be someone you’re not.Networking is about cultivating relationships, and thinking of how you might be able to help others.
So, if you see a great graduate role that you think a fellow Curtin alumni would be well-suited for, give them a shout out; they’ll be flattered you thought of them and may just have you to thank down the track for helping them score their dream job. And who knows, maybe they’ll return the favour one day.