NEXT UP ON this.
Does the idea of networking conjure up images of nametags, awkward small talk and handing out business cards to reluctant strangers?
Sure, the thought of rocking up to a networking event may give you the jitters, but there are plenty of other, more natural strategies you can use to connect with new people.
That person you met at a party and stayed in touch with via Facebook? Your friend’s parents? A workmate from your part-time job? Your footy or netball teammate?
These are all potentially handy networks. And you just never know what these connections might lead to down the track.
Surely you don’t need to start networking in high school? Think again, says Sophia StJames, a Senior Work Integrated Learning Coordinator at Deakin.
She explains that starting to get to know people outside your immediate sphere is great practice, helping you build up different skills and contacts.
Volunteering, for example, is one way to tackle the problem you’ll likely face when you’re young – that you need experience to get experience.
‘Volunteering is perfect because you really are learning from so many people, and practicing engaging with people who are different to you,” StJames says.
StJames also recommends practising saying yes to any interesting opportunities that might pop up – such as a chat with someone new, or even a tour of someone’s office.
‘I know that people can feel that opportunities like these are going to be awkward or scary, and avoid them because they feel they don’t have anything to offer,’ she says.
‘If you instead view it as an opportunity to learn, you’ll find that the person offering you the career chat or office tour just simply wants to give you that opportunity.’
Many uni students reach the end of their degree only to realise they haven’t taken the chance to network, StJames says.
She says talking about networking early helps reframe what you’re doing, rather than seeing yourself as ‘just a student’.
‘You might say, I’m just a journalism student or I’m just a teaching student – but what you actually are, is a really early career practitioner.
‘You’re still learning your craft and surrounding yourself with people that are further along their career than you, or having interesting conversations with people that are passionate about the same things.’
Placements or internships are also great ways to start making connections.
Again, volunteering is a smart way to network – but don’t do it just for the sake of it, StJames says. ‘Instead, look at it like what skills do I want to build and what am I interested in and passionate about.’
'You’re still learning your craft and surrounding yourself with people that are further along their career than you, or having interesting conversations with people that are passionate about the same things.'
Work Integrated Learning, Deakin University
If you’re a communications student, for instance, you could use those skills at a not-for-profit, or take an internship. ‘That’s 100 or so people in an extended network that get to know you and can introduce you to other people.’
Uni clubs are another easy way to sharpen your networking abilities.
First networking tip: don’t make it all about you. After all, it’s a two-way street.
‘I encourage people to think of it less about what you’re getting out of it – like this might lead to a job if I talk to this person – but think about what you might learn from it,’ StJames says.
‘If you’re really interested in someone’s experience or what they’re doing … and you’re in it to have a conversation really quite genuinely, it takes the pressure off it.’
Who knows, they might end up being your mentor, mentioning your name to someone else or becoming a person you can turn to for advice.
When you do want to network, it might be difficult to think of a conversation starter, especially if you’re shy. A simple way to begin is by showing genuine interest and asking questions, StJames says.
Reaching out to someone online, say via LinkedIn, can be a winning approach, but be aware how your introduction might come across.
‘Some people say, “Hey I’m reaching out to you because I have to do an internship in my course, so I was wondering if you’ve got any internships going?” I mean it’s pretty clear you don’t really want to do it,’ StJames says.
In her previous career as an artist, a nervous StJames decided to reach out to a fellow artist she really admired, asking if she could buy her a coffee and ask a few tips about approaching galleries.
‘She was really receptive and we stayed in contact for quite a while, which was awesome,’ StJames says. ‘I’ll always remember it because it really gave me a lot of confidence hearing from somebody that had walked that path before.’
Subscribe for a regular dose of technology, innovation, culture and personal development.