2019 Speed Mentoring with YAIA and the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in Canberra.
In our latest Career Insights blog, YAIA’s Careers Officer, Lauren Twine, explores the value of networking and shares tips on how to make the most of it by developing preparatory and follow up strategies.
The word ‘networking’ incites a feeling of dread, pressure, and awkwardness for a lot of people, no matter how outgoing and extroverted they are. Perhaps you’re a bit of an introvert like myself, trying, of little avail, to think of somewhere worse you could find yourself than at a networking event.
In reality, networking is about meeting people, socialising, and making meaningful connections - aspects of life that many of us enjoy - just in a professional context. If this still doesn’t convince you, there are many steps you can take to navigate networking confidently, even if you do not feel that it comes as naturally to you. Given that networking is a common activity in most industries, knowing how to network effectively and confidently without fear is critical.
According to our Chief Operating Officer, Katrina Van De Ven, networking is an essential tool that brings each segment of her busy and varied life together: "I have quite a diverse career: I work in government and international relations; volunteer in the non-profit sector; and am studying for an MBA. As such, I am constantly seeking to bring these three 'worlds' together; in this regard, networking is invaluable".
In an industry like international affairs, where professionals come from various backgrounds and hold a wide range of qualifications and skills, mastering soft skills such as networking is something that unites all of us. Having a strong network can be valuable for locating opportunities, accessing relevant and interesting information, and helping others/ being helped by others.
While it is ideal to start networking and building a network while you’re still a student, it is never too late! The more networking you do, the more confident you will become. First things first, you should ensure that you have an up-to-date LinkedIn profile that you can use to connect with professionals following any networking interactions.
Networking doesn’t always mean formal events with a presentation followed by a cocktail reception to network. A great way to ease yourself into networking is through participation in university clubs and societies, volunteering for an organisation in your community, any employment that you have, and attending talks at universities or by organisations you’re interested in working in.
It may not feel like it, but through all these opportunities, you will start developing your professional network. Those around you will get to know what sort of person you are, and what your skills and capabilities are in a more practical, professional setting. YAIA events are also a great place to start, given that we are all young Australians, interested in international affairs - we are all in the same boat and have a few things in common already! If you’re feeling nervous and uncomfortable about going to a networking event on your own, then you could bring a friend along to encourage you and ease the nerves.
1. Research and prepare.
Before the networking event, do a little research on the people you know who will be attending or speaking at the event. Look out especially for the ones who are closest to your career goals and interests and find out what they are working on currently, and what they have worked on in the past. Prepare a 30-second elevator pitch where you introduce yourself, your study, your work, and your career goals and interests. Finally, think of specific questions that you can ask these people to get the conversation going. The more that you prepare prior to the networking event, the less awkward and anxious that you will feel while networking.
2. Be polite.
During the networking event, remember your manners and don’t ask for an internship or job outright. Before asking anyone for a favour, it’s important to build rapport, so you can start by thinking about how you could help others with one of their projects or add value to their organisation. The idea of networking is to develop real and personal connections. Listen carefully to what other people are saying, ask them lots of questions, and then respond. Minimise talking all about yourself or trying to sell yourself. People often like talking about themselves, so asking others lots of questions about what they do is a great way to get to know them and to help them feel at ease too.
3. Be conscious of time.
The next tip is to ensure that you do not take up all of the other person’s time. Be respectful and let them speak to others as well. If you are speaking to a more established professional, chances are there will be others who also want to speak with this person. End the conversation by saying “Thanks for your time, I’ll let you speak with some of the other people here”. It is best to avoid “I’ll just go to the bathroom/ get another drink”.
4. Be brave and take risks!
It is impossible to network without putting yourself out there and having a conversation with someone new. Even if you’re feeling shy, the preparation that you have done beforehand will guide you through. Remember that it is not all about connecting with senior professionals in your industry. It is just as important to connect with fellow young professionals. YAIA Adelaide Branch Director, Isabella Stocco Bradley has found that many opportunities have arisen for her through connecting with other young professionals. She puts forward a valuable question: “Where will you and your peers be in 10-15 years and how can you support each other to ensure you both have successful and rewarding careers along the way?” By approaching another young professional, you will meet a current and future leader, and make a new friend - chances are they are feeling nervous just like you and will appreciate you reaching out.
YAIA's Adelaide team meeting with Heads of Mission (L-R Ambassador Robert Fergusson, David Hopkins, Isabella Stocco Bradley, Ambassador Sophie Davies, Lauren Twine, Jack Lewis).
Following the networking event, connect on LinkedIn soon after. When you send your connection invitation, be sure to include a message to the connection about where you met and what you appreciate about what they did or said. Expressing your gratitude for their time at the event is also a good idea. Isabella also notes the importance of following up with your connections and developing those genuine relationships: “I think it’s important not just to judge your networking on the number of connections you have but how connected you are. Definitely reach out to more senior people but make sure to follow up and grab that coffee, and sooner rather than later”.
Interested in learning more about networking effectively as a student or young professional?
You can check out articles on The Guardian, Forbes, business.com, and TopResume amongst countless others for further information, or feel free to reach out to our YAIA Careers team if you have any questions.