Networking: How to build and maintain a network of professional contacts

For many students the prospect of networking is nerve-wracking or simply confusing. Networking doesn’t have to mean approaching strangers – in fact, it’s often about utilising existing professional and personal connections.

However, don’t despair if you don’t know anyone who can help you advance into your ideal career. The following tips can help you start and sustain a healthy network. They are coupled with a recent successful networking experience I had.

  • Go to events– Career and industry events are a great way to meet professionals in your chosen sector. But, you can also use your university alumni service, online sites such as LinkedIn and even Twitter. I recently went to an event held at QM called Working in Political Risk, which featured three professionals from the political risk sector. The event took the format of a panel responding to questions posed initially by Jeff Riley, Careers Consultant SPIR, E&D and History and then by the audience.
  • Be prepared– It’s a good idea to set goals before you attend an event so that you stay focused. Have a think about what you want to find out about a particular role or company and make sure it’s something that is not available on their website. You can also adapt these goals depending on what takes place. During the event I made notes on what the guests had spoken about and wrote questions on the things I was interested in finding out more about.
  • Short and sweet– This is crucial, especially when you’re at event where you have limited time with people. You want to make an impression quickly, so be concise with your information. This will help make the meeting more of a conversation than a one way pitch. It’s also useful if you’re nervous as you won’t have a lot to remember.  Do some background research on the organisation or person attending in advance if you can.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help– People are usually happy to help you especially if you show a real enthusiasm and interest in their profession. I spoke to a representative from a company and demonstrated that I was keen to learn more about the work that he did as an underwriter. At the end of our conversation he gave me his business card and told me that I could email him if I had any more questions.
  • Maintain your network– This is essential if you intend on asking favours in the future. It’s also important for the expansion of your network as your initial contact can be a gateway for meeting more people in your preferred sector. Follow up either by email or telephone a few days after your first meeting. I was unsure of what steps to take next so I got advice from the Careers Centre and had a look at the networking information sheets. Following the advice, I sent a courtesy email to my contact thanking him for his time, whilst including some information about myself and our conversation. He responded and said that he would be happy to help me in the future.

The Careers Centre has a number of resources on networking which can be found under the resources section of our website. Alternatively you can come into the Careers & Enterprise Centre and pick up hard copies.

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