Why is everyone so afraid of networking?
For the next time you’re dreading the infamous ‘networking session’, Charlotte Biggins has five tips to change a terrifying ordeal into a unique careers opportunity.
Few things spark more fear in university students than the word ‘networking’. Whether it’s at a panel specifically for your field, or at a general careers meet-up, networking can be a pretty nerve-wracking experience.
If you’re worried you’ll break out in a cold sweat when forced to mingle with industry professionals, or feel that you’d rather be anywhere else in the world than walking up to introduce yourself to a panellist, don’t worry – everyone gets it! Luckily you don’t have to be a social butterfly or a seasoned pro to get the most out of networking events.
1. Have a clear idea of what you want to get out of it
Arriving at a networking session with a goal of what you want to achieve is a great way to reduce stress. Setting yourself realistic objectives, whether it’s speaking to a particular person or learning about a specific subject, will give you a clear vision of what you want to achieve. But remember - networking isn’t about asking for a job straight away. Few people, if any, will immediately hire you from one meeting. It’s all about building a rapport, establishing a relationship and making meaningful connections so that in the future, you may get referred for a job or an internship.
2. Come prepared
Like anything in life, preparation is a huge part of eliminating anxiety, and networking is no different. Knowing who the panellists are, their interests, their experiences and their careers can be a big help in making introductions and conversations less daunting. So do your homework, remember their names, and come prepared with some knowledge of who you’re going to be talking to.
3. Bring a networking buddy
Everything is less frightening if you’ve got a friend there with you, so bring along a buddy or colleague to help mingle with strangers. You can both benefit from a confidence boost, and can help each other generate conversations. But be careful – you might end up clinging together too closely, which defeats the whole point of networking. If you are bringing a friend, make sure you spend some time meeting and talking to people individually.
The biggest trap that most people fall into when networking is talking but not listening. Conversations with others often stop if you just jump in only talking about yourself. It’s easy to ask questions without listening to the answers, but the best conversationalists (and networkers!) are the ones who listen to advice, opinions and answers when they’re offered. So be curious and engaging – but don’t do all the talking!
5) Be friendly
Last but not least, remember to be friendly and polite. Panellists at an industry event aren’t there to scare you – they’ve come along to give you valuable experience and help you with your career. Approaching a networking session with positivity and an open mind not only makes you stand out from the crowd, but means you may have a more enjoyable time doing it. So just smile, relax, and have fun!
With a bit of practice, networking is a skill that anybody can master, and when you do, it forms an invaluable part of your career development and professional growth. For a chance to practice your networking skills come along to the Careers Masterclass and Brand Building: Learn how to market yourself, where career experts will give you the 101 on pitching, LinkedIn and internship guidance.
But no matter where or how you get experience, remember that everyone’s in the same boat. And just like all the students who were initially terrified of networking, with a little confidence and a belief in yourself, you can nail it too.