Five tips for networking without family connections

This was originally posted on The Careers Group Bog, Reach, on 2nd October.

Networking is important in job seeking and exploring your career options, from helping you to discover unadvertised vacancies  to developing commercial awareness. But what if you don’t know anyone in the types of roles that interest you? This problem is particularly common for students and graduates from less affluent backgrounds so here’s some advice on overcoming that barrier.

Network by Flickr user futureshape

Your university alumni

Your careers service may provide contact with alumni or sometimes it’s managed through the alumni office. If these places don’t set up connections the LinkedIn alumni search  can be particularly helpful. The good thing about using alumni is that you’ll have an easy starting point to any conversation, plus alumni tend to be especially willing to help you out.

Social media

As well as the alumni search, LinkedIn can help you make connections by joining relevant groups. The approach taken and particular etiquette varies by sector but general advice is to be polite and personal when reaching out to people and make sure you’re contributing something of value when commenting in group discussions. Keep an eye out for LinkedIn workshops from your careers service as these can help you use it most effectively.

Although LinkedIn is specifically designed for professional networking other social networks shouldn’t be ignored. Twitter is especially useful in that you don’t need permission to follow someone so shy people can build up gradually to making direct contact after getting the lay of the land first. Good accounts to follow are companies’ recruitment feeds, professionals in the industry, and journalists and PRs for the sector that interests you. Once you’re following some folk you can check lists they’re on for other people to add to your network.

Your careers service

Check to see what employer talks and networking events your careers service puts on. There are usually loads throughout the year covering different sectors and many give the opportunity to network. As well as the events put on by individual services The Careers Group also puts on graduate recruitment fairs such as this month’s London Graduate Fair.

Professional associations

Many sectors have societies or networks for their professionals, and sometimes there are specialist  events for students too. The kinds of activities for professional associations vary from formal to social. You can find professional associations on Careers Tagged you can refine the results by sector by choosing a keyword in the right-hand column.

There are also informal groups such as meetups where people discuss professional issues and meet others from their industry. One place to find these is http://www.meetup.com/

Lateral thinking

There are many contexts where you can meet people with interesting jobs. We’ve heard about people working in shops close to the company they want to work in. Chats with customers eventually led to careers talk. In an article in the Financial Times  a recruitment consultant advises “putting a CV under the windshield wiper of all the BMWs on a block – after all, bosses drive BMWs”. This might be for the more confident job seeker but it’s all about connecting with people and this can happen anywhere and in lots of different ways.

Even if nobody in your family works in the industry you want to enter into they might know someone who knows someone… don’t rule anyone out when it comes to making connections.

Find more information and advice on networking on Careers Tagged. Also useful might be these resources which cover internship programmes, information and support for students and grads from low-income backgrounds.

Over to you!

What are your best networking tips? Or what do you find hardest about networking? Let us know by leaving a comment.

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