Now that I’ve finished my Bachelor’s degree, it’s fair to say that I’ve been to my fair share of networking events. Some students love the idea of dressing up and picking the brains of industry leaders over wine and canapés, while many others struggle in this admittedly unusual setting. Unfortunately, many of us aren’t blessed with the ability to walk up to a stranger and navigate the minefield that is selling yourself without appearing to do so. In light of this, I’ve put together a few tips to help even the meekest of you reach your networking goals.
1. Look the part – networking evenings are professional events – make an effort to look professional. While an expensive suit is not necessarily required, at least show that you’ve put a bit of effort into how you portray yourself – you’re trying to sell your personal brand after all. A common tip from interview experts is to mimic the interviewer’s style as closely as possible, and this extends into networking. If you’re looking to talk to someone from one company, in particular, identify the type of industry the company takes place in, and what its employees are likely to wear and use this as #inspiration.
2. Do your homework – If you want to impress then take the time to research before the event. This doesn’t mean jumping on LinkedIn for some quality stalker time, but looking up the companies involved and finding out some interesting facts about them: their philosophies, their esteemed work environment, awards won, notable employees, etc. Anything that shows that you’re interested in the brand and able to sustain a legitimate conversation rather than just saying “Hai give me job pls”.
3. Don’t be scared – It can be hard to approach a stranger and strike up a conversation, especially when the conversation pertains to business – a topic of which us students aren’t exactly experts. Despite this, it’s important to remember two things. One – people are more willing to give you their time and opinions than you might expect. Two – these particular professionals have been asked to attend this event and are expecting to be approached and asked questions. If you show the confidence to talk to them in a relaxed manner and ask insightful questions, you’re going to stand out.
4. Pick your moments – That being said, you need to know when it’s appropriate to approach someone. Sometimes it’s difficult to find the right time to enter into a conversation, especially with the most highly-coveted reps on the night. Wait for a lull in the conversation and just make to expand the circle. Don’t rush to introduce yourself and when you eventually do, don’t ignore the other students there; that’s just rude.
5. Ask for a business card – Knowing when to leave a conversation is also important. You’re one of many students wanting to chat with these people, and if you start running out of good conversation, you’re going to lose your advantage very quickly. Think of an appropriate way to end the conversation that doesn’t rhyme with “I need another wine”, instead say “but could I grab your business card or email?”. They’ll be happy to share it, and you’ve just gained a valuable asset in beginning your professional career.
6. Follow up – So you’ve talked to a couple of business people and attained their contact details. The single most important tip I can offer you is to follow up and send them a correspondence. Thank you for their time, if you talked about something that is likely to stand out in their mind then reference it so they can put a face to the name, and don’t grovel. If you’ve gotten this far then you’re already looking pretty good in their eyes, don’t spoil it all by straight up asking for a job. If you have an article relevant to your conversation, share it. If they want to offer you something, they will. Happened to me. True story.
As a bonus piece of advice, try not to overthink it. In my first year, I would prepare conversations in advance and try to control the situation to work to my advantage. This didn’t work… at all. Eventually, and whether due to an abundance of grad job rejections, or simply because I stopped caring so much, my conversations at networking events became much more natural, with the result that I landed an internship with an international digital marketing company. So good luck, and happy networking!