How to network
Networking, whether informal or formal, is a great way to meet people and make and maintain positive connections.
Developing a network of contacts can help you with your career planning and job search. But you need to make sure your approach is professional, planned and has clear goals.
Most importantly, you need to keep working at building good connections to increase your knowledge and understanding of your chosen sector, access potential job opportunities and gain useful contacts for the future.
The best networking skills you can have are curiosity and creative thinking. Other important skills include:
- talking to people
- building rapport and relationships
- listening to people and taking interest in them
- engaging people's interest quickly
- being ready to act on opportunities
Why you should develop networking skills
Once you start to develop and use networking skills you'll:
- increase your knowledge and understanding of your sector
- develop new job ideas
- get useful contacts for your future job search
- develop mentoring relationships
- get into other people's networks – the more people you know and that know you, the greater your chance of success
- access a potentially significant hidden jobs market (approximately 70% of jobs aren't advertised)
Top tips to network effectively
- Have clear goals for networking – for example, if you're looking to build key contacts for a future career move, keep this in mind
- Make sure you research contacts you're networking with so you're confident in your approach
- Make sure you actively listen to your contact – you'll be seen as a good listener and be able to recall important information more easily
- Don't bombard the person you're networking with – check you're not taking up too much of their time and make it a brief information gathering exercise
- Ask about other useful contacts the person you're speaking to might know, and get their permission to say they recommended them – these are known as "warm contacts"
- Don't directly ask for a job when networking – instead, ask for information and contacts and see where it leads
- Ask for a business card and, once your meeting is over, make brief notes on the back
- Make sure you send a thank you note or email to your contact after meeting them to reinforce your appreciation and any points you discussed or agreed on
- Keep in touch with relevant contacts regularly to make sure you're fresh in their minds
The importance of listening
A problem people have when they're in a networking situation is not listening to what other people say. Their internal dialogue is so noisy and distracting that they're not listening to others. This wastes valuable networking time and energy.
Often, the reason for the internal dialogue is thinking of what you're going to say next. This is a natural reaction to feeling nervous, uncomfortable or bored and not trusting that the conversation will flow naturally.
A good way to stop your internal dialogue is to imagine you have to report back on what the person's saying, or introduce them to someone else. This forces you to concentrate.
Listening to what someone's saying is more impressive than anything you'll have to say anyway – the ability to listen makes you more interesting than the ability to talk.
Networking can be both formal and informal, face-to-face or online via social media networks. See our starting advice on different networking opportunities.
Social networking online
A large number of organisations now have a presence on social media platforms including LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. If you don't have one already, creating a profile online can be a great place to make contacts and start building a network. Social media allows you to follow news and trends across relevant sectors, the information you see might help you spot networking opportunities and tap into the hidden job market. We've put together a guide to LinkedIn to get you started.
Don’t forget that a large percentage of employers use social media to screen employees too. Make sure you think carefully about how you present yourself on social networking sites. Check to see what information is available about you online and make sure you're happy with what a potential employer can find. Visit TARGETJobs for advice on managing your online reputation.
Student and university networks
There are plenty of opportunities to meet and network with professionals or other students interested in your chosen field.
- Student societies – the University of Portsmouth’s Students’ Union provides an A-Z of societies where you can meet like-minded people
- Recruitment fairs and employer events – our Careers and Employability Service organises employer events where you can meet recruiters and find out more about the opportunities available.
A lot of career areas have one or more professional bodies or membership organisations that provide opportunities to network both online and at events. The Careers and Employability Service has a range of career guides with links to key organisations and websites for your chosen career area.
Networking while on placement
Research your role
Before or while on placement, actively seek out people in key roles and make a note of who would be useful to meet. If you can, meet up with someone who did your placement role last year.
It's useful to meet with people working in departments that you're curious about but know nothing about, or with someone doing your dream role.
When you meet with these people, find out about their experience by asking them a few key questions.
Questions to ask:
- How do you spend a typical day/week?
- What kinds of problems do you deal with?
- What do you find most/least satisfying about your work?
- Where are opportunities advertised?
- Is there a typical career pattern for graduate/entry-level roles?
- Which parts of this field are expanding and likely to offer opportunities in the future?
- What are the typical entry-level jobs?
- What are the toughest challenges the profession is facing?
- Can you suggest anyone else I might talk to?
- What tips do you have for me to become employable when I leave university?
You never know when you might meet someone who could help you when you leave university. To be prepared, write and memorise an elevator pitch or 30-second CV.
This should be a short statement that sums up who you are and where you want to get to such as "I want to do a job that allows me to do A, B and C in an organisation that’s doing X, Y and Z".
Networking contacts respond to that kind of message because it's clear, succinct, memorable and packed with enthusiasm. It's great for interviews and very handy when you meet someone at a party who says "what do you do..." or "what would you like to do?"
The opportunity to speak to a potential employer can happen at any time. Develop a minimalist CV highlighting your key points and have a verbal version of this type of CV to communicate key points.
Introducing yourself to co-workers in a wide range of roles is a good way to begin. Be approachable and extend your network beyond your department. Volunteer to serve on a cross-function team and meet regularly with people from other departments to network and learn about other aspects of the business.
Attend an event
Find out what events staff attend and get invited for the future. Go prepared and observe as well as talk to people.
This could include professional events that may run networking events or useful training and conferences where you can forge new links.
Examples of professional events include:
- Trade fairs
- Business meetings
- Breakfast clubs
- Chamber of commerce events
Get a mentor
When you're new a mentor can be a great help in extending the reach of your internal network. Talk to your line manager to see if the organisation has a mentoring scheme or can help you set one up.
Keep an address book
Make notes of times, dates, who you met and what you found out as well as follow up actions. There's no 'sell-by' date on contacts. You can do this on LinkedIn.
Etiquette, good or bad, includes table manners, punctuality and even your approach to social networking. If you think people don’t notice, you’re wrong.
Mind your manners. Don’t be late to meetings, enter group conversations sensitively, and keep your emails (and your Facebook profile) professional. A common etiquette mistake, and one that will quickly land you a top spot on the blacklist, is to share a person's contact details without their permission. Even if you’re doing them a favour, always check in with them first.
Build relationships beyond the placement
Keeping in touch with colleagues you met on placement could help you develop mentoring relationships, get feedback for your CV, get interview tips or get help with your dissertation.
If you don’t ask, you won’t get. Remember, being pleasantly persistent, sending thank you emails, and 'just to let you know' emails will help to continue the relationship.