During your university years, it is guaranteed that you will meet many, many different people. Some of these people will become lifelong friends, others you will spend hours studying with or down the pub with, but there is a distinct category that is equally as important. Those are the people who will help accelerate your career.
Some people may be lucky enough to have a parent or family member who works at the company of their dreams, that is great for them, but the majority of students do not. You have to make your own contacts and that is where networking comes in.
This may sound like the obvious thing to do, but many students avoid networking events. The Student Union and various university departments have run networking events, where only a small number of students attend. Networking does not have to be an awkward experience; if you become a student ambassador for your school, or join a volunteering group or student society, then you are already networking, even if you don't realise it.
Do your research
If you are planning on attending an event, the most important thing for you to do is your research. For instance, if you are planning to attend a careers event, make sure you know who is attending. If you research into the companies attending, it can create a more comfortable and natural conversation and remove any awkward encounters.
How to network
One of the most important parts of networking is showing enthusiasm and interest in the person you are talking to. Be curious about the person you are talking to, do not be afraid to ask them about their role in the company, their career story, and most importantly do not forget to ask for their business card. At the start of the academic year I attended an event at Scape about the Power of Networking. It was held by Blackbullion, who talked us through how to network and how to control the room. I attended a networking event shortly after that event in Whitechapel. One thing that Vivi from Blackbullion said, really stuck with me. I asked for their business card. This bold move meant that I had control. I had the power to contact them. The key to networking is listening, you want them to take an interest in you, so be prepared to listen to them.
The opening statement
If you lack confidence in starting conversations with strangers, then developing an opening statement can be of great help. For instance, ‘Hello, I am X. I am in my penultimate year at Queen Mary studying X. My focus is on X, and I would love to talk to you more about it.’ This is a clear opening statement; it gives the person you are talking to all your key information.
Be open to new possibilities
You need to remember that during events you will meet a large array of people. Not everyone you meet could develop into a potential future employer. Therefore, it is important that even if you have a clear objective in your mind about your career not to dissuade people who may be from different areas of that industry. You may even find you come across an idea for a career that you had previously overlooked, or were unaware of.
Networking at university is a fun, engaging and an important part of your university experience. One of the most important things to remember is not to be a wallflower; the experts at these events are there because they want to talk to you and find out about your career goals. Regularly attending these events and the more often you network, you will find that your confidence will grow and your conversations will become more structured, effective and valuable.
One final tip would be do not forget to follow-up after a networking event. Send the person an email, or add them on LinkedIn.