The Power of Networking

University is probably the one place in your whole life where you will be offered so many different kinds of study and work experiences and opportunities to meet interesting people. Sure, you will meet and greet throughout your career, but nowhere else will you have such variety thrown at you in such a heavy concentration.

It is important to tap into that opportunity early, to develop your networking skills and your ability to sell yourself, so that when you graduate you have a good set of contacts to call upon for jobs. That career ladder isn’t going to climb itself.

What is networking in the first place?

Networking is about developing contacts with people with whom you can build a rapport and who may provide information, leads, referrals, support and encouragement if and when it’s needed… and as a good networker you will do the same for other people.

There are so many opportunities at university to meet people who can offer you such support. Here is a sample of some of the opportunities I have come across as a HUSS student in my four years here:

  • Subjects in your faculty
  • Electives in other faculties
  • Summer/winter school opportunities – sometimes on other campuses
  • Connect Mentor
  • Infinity Leadership Program
  • Career Mentoring
  • Career Hub events
  • Green Steps Sustainability Program
  • La Trobe Award
  • Any languages and the language clubs
  • Overseas exchanges
  • Clubs and associations
  • External career events
  • Golden Key opportunities
  • Centre for Dialogue events and other public lectures
  • Short term exchange programs
  • Model United Nations (run through LIRA – La Trobe International Relations Association)
  • External associations linked to your field
  • Degree placements
  • Inter-university opportunities

Ideally all students should be aware of the plethora of opportunities available. Wherever you go you will be meeting other students from various walks of life, plus the staff and leaders involved who hold the potential to guide you or direct you to somewhere you might be interesting in going. Below are a number of tips to develop your abilities to tune your networking skills into a something that will truly work for you.

Take note of how wide your circle is already.

Take a sheet of paper and write down your name in a circle in the middle. Then around your name write down all the people you know, from family, work, sport, school, university, clubs/associations, anybody from anywhere. Then write down someone you know through them. Write down the work people do, or an organisation they are involved in.  Notice how many people you know, and also who might work in an area that interests you.

Put this somewhere and keep adding to it. The more people you meet through uni the more your web will grow.

Make a roadmap of your dream future

You can get more out of university if you know where you want to go or what you want to achieve. For students with an end goal in mind already, that might be easy, for others, not so. Perhaps just making it to graduation is enough. Great – that’s still a dream future. Using your web above, faculty opportunities and the university as a whole, map out some things that may interest you. If you are in education, maybe the school based placements would be enhanced by some Connect Mentoring in second and third year, or learning a language. If you are in Health Science, are there some external associations in your desired field that hold regular events, or have a membership that you could apply for? Maybe you are in Business, Economics and Law and on a management track, and the Infinity Leadership Program is your sorta thing. Or maybe your mum’s friend or your neighbour works in an area that interests you.  In any case, list your dream job and all the programs, careers events, placements, internships, subjects, overseas opportunities, etc that might be useful in your journey to get there. Then plot out what you can realistically achieve each year for the next three years.

Without realising, this roadmap will actually help you achieve objectives from each opportunity. When you go to events and meet new people, you will be much clearer about what you are doing there – because you are out to gain knowledge and skills that will help you test your interest in your desired field and meet people who may be on a similar track to you.

One known lecturer at La Trobe believes that university isn’t just a journey to find out what you like doing, but what you don’t like doing.  It only makes you more certain of your decisions.  Participating in a wide variety of events can help you talk to people and develop skills and knowledge to make an informed decision of what you do and don’t like.

Develop confidence and become an active participant

When you first start out attending and participating, some people might be shy or nervous. Find someone who looks understanding and take that first step by introducing yourself, and say its your first time. Especially if you are at something outside university, just having the initiative to turn up will impress. Say you are from La Trobe and interested in developing your knowledge of the field/topic. If you are with other uni students, its less nerve-wracking.  If you are shy, you don’t have to talk straight away, sometimes watching from afar is fine.

That said, the goal is to become an active participant. Doing things you like and are passionate about will help you out of your shell, and talking to people, asking questions, and being proactive will get you noticed. Be smiley, confident, optimistic, leave a positive impression. Shake hands and be confident in introducing yourself. Some students are clever enough to make up business cards to take to such events, to help people remember them. If anyone gives you a card, a nice gesture is to send a short message the next day to thank them and say what a pleasure it was meeting them.

When I go to association or networking events where I think I will see the people again, I make a little note about each person I remember speaking to, like their name, any interests they mentioned, their degree or job, (especially good when meeting other La Trobe students whom you are likely to bump into again). This way you are more likely to recall the details later when you see them again. You can put this info into a program like Outlook under their name and then notes, that way its on your phone and you can easily refer to when you see them again.

The second major part of networking is maintaining your contacts.  Don’t just follow up with an email, but every few months send them an email or note to let them know what you are doing and any new and interesting things you have done.  If you come across something that reminds you of them, like a newspaper article or a blog or a funny or inspiring picture/video, send it to them.  Do what you can not only to remind them of you but to show that you are worth keeping up with, and that you are prepared to ensure they get something out of the connection as well.

First impressions and your elevator speech

The final thing I will leave you with is that impressions count for a lot.

While doing subject or club related stuff is low-key and you can wear your student cap and be quite informal, at any career event, Leadership Program, Model UN, or any external association, you need to switch to your business cap to make a good impression. That means, business attire, professional attitude and manner, watch your swearing and way of talking, and show respect. Be punctual, set phones to silent, and ask thoughtful questions. The first couple of times might be a bit nerve-wracking, I know my first times were, especially those events at other universities. I was out of my comfort zone for sure. But talking to people is the main purpose, and that’s where your elevator pitch comes in.

An elevator pitch is usually a one-minute pitch at what you want to be/do but this is considered too long in many circles. Ten seconds is a much better fit. Brian Walter, of http://www.extrememeetings.com, talks of a wow, how, now approach. Wow them with something intriguing or puzzling about your degree/dream career, that makes them go “huh?” then you call follow up their interest with a simple explanation – say for example your degree – and then use an example (the now) to relate it. Take for example the degree International Development. I get this a lot, so I don’t need to put a wow spin on it – ID is puzzling enough.

  • Other person: So what do you do?
  • Me: I study International Development.
  • OP: Right. So, what’s that?
  • Me: I learn how to be a humanitarian. You know that stuff that Bono and Bob Geldof do?
  • OP: Yeah. (Gets it) Oh yeah, so you want to help starving kids in Africa?
  • Me: Well, maybe. Or work with NGOs and government to strive for equality for women. Or protect the environment. Or refugees. Ideally I’d like to work in policy, so I can help make the changes needed to facilitate real progress.

Ultimately, each person has a different take on my degree and if I give them enough rope they’ll find something to hook into that will develop a conversation from there. It’s great. If you work out a good spin for your degree or what you want to do, I can guarantee you that you will perfect it the more you meet people and have a chance to practice it time and again. The reactions of others will tell you if you need to work on it or if it’s fine as is.

Anyway, those are just some tips that will help you across the next few years. If you make the most of each semester break – summer and winter – as described in my previous blog, plus the various opportunities on offer, you will be able to meet a ton of people that can help encourage you to follow paths you may or may not have otherwise considered, and learn to step up onto those first steps of the career ladder.

Good luck peeps!

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