What I learned from networking

This week’s guest post comes from Bianca Drotleff, who has been a fantastic intern for us this year at Career and Employability Services. In her second post for us (see her first one here), she reflects on how she has developed her networking skills… 

As I am currently approaching the end of my industrial placement year and reflecting on the skills I have developed so far, I think that definitely one of the most important is NETWORKING. I am an outgoing person and can easily develop conversations with other people, but I realised that I did not know how to network. I wish I had known in my second year how to network more effectively and take advantage of social networks such as LinkedIn, but better late than never!

Out of my comfort zone

Working as a Career and Employability Services Intern pushed me to get out of my comfort zone and explore. So, during the Career Fairs (organised by my team) last autumn I talked to different employers, asked questions, took their contact details and FOLLOWED UP. This is one of the crucial aspects when networking because it helps you develop the discussion and even gives you the opportunity to possibly meet that person again in the future. While becoming conscious of the need to work on my networking skills, a friend of mine recommended the book ‘Never Eat Alone’ by Keith Ferrazzi. One important thing I learnt from this book is that our career is about the people we meet throughout our life which help us progress.

I am involved in many community projects and I attend different development events, so I get to talk to various people. But what was different this time after learning the basics of networking? Well, I started to follow up with them by sending an email right after the event or the next day. Usually during events you only get to spend a short amount of time with a person as everyone wants to get to know everyone. When following up I took the chance to learn from those people by asking about their career, how their degrees helped them, etc. Another thing that really helped get more practise was joining the Careers Mentoring Scheme provided by our University (very useful!).

Is LinkedIn useful?

I began to explore LinkedIn as I kept hearing people in my office talking about its benefits. I started my LinkedIn profile a few years back because it was a criteria for entering a competition during high school. During my first year of University I attended Careers workshops about LinkedIn to help me make mine look a bit more professional (it took me over a year to actually update it), but still I could not see its real value or how it would be useful to me.

One of my responsibilities for my placement role is to search and promote placements, internships and graduate work opportunities. So, this is how I actually started to use LinkedIn more often…for work purposes. But from there, I got to realise how many job opportunities are available on the LinkedIn search tool or were distributed by individuals from my network which I COULD NOT FIND on any other websites. This is how I started to explore LinkedIn and professionally updated my profile. Once you develop your LinkedIn network you will see people sharing many work opportunities (it is good to connect with people in the area of your interest).

Pieces of advice

(I wish I had known all these when applying for my placement year)

Start by getting out of your comfort zone as soon as possible and even if you might feel awkward in the first instance, once you practise you will get used to it. Networking is NOT about getting to know as many people as possible, is about getting to know the stories of the people you meet and learn from them.

Since using LinkedIn I have started to connect with people that I met during the events I attended or I simply connected with their connections who were working in the area I am interested in (you can link with me here). I also started to share different posts about my area of interest and this is how you become visible to your network and beyond. But the one thing I would recommend when connecting with the people that you find interesting is to write them a message asking them about: their career path, a post they might have shared, weather they provide work experience opportunities, etc. The worst you can get is a NO or even NO REPLY, so you will not lose out. But from my experience, in many cases you will get big surprises. For example, after sending a simple message on LinkedIn I was able to talk to sustainability professionals (this is my interest area) about their career paths and then I secured a short work experience opportunity and was able to discuss over the phone, a community project idea, with the CEO of a large professional body in the UK (you can imagine my astonishment and excitement when I got his reply on LinkedIn!). I have gained many valuable insights in the industry and pieces of advice about how to develop my career that you just cannot learn from books.

So, step out into the light, talk to people, ask them questions and keep in touch with them as you will be surprised to see how people you do not know at all are willing to share their stories and help you progress in your career. You can become good at networking! If I can do it you can too!

Thanks very much Bianca! There’s further reading on networking and other employability skills on our website, and as always, if you want to discuss anything to do with your career please get in touch with us.