If you’ve been seeking advice about finding a job or making it in a certain industry, you’ve probably been told to ‘network.’ But what does that actually mean? And how on earth do you do it? This guide is here to help you figure out stress-free networking, so you can start building up your professional circle.
The shocking, hidden truth is that networking is about being sociable and having a chat. That’s it really. It’s about showing interest, discussing ideas and gathering information. You probably already do it, and you’re probably way better at it than you think.
Done well, networking can help you to make useful contacts and find out about job opportunities that may not be advertised. It isn’t just useful for finding work, though - some people use it to get advice, discover work experience and shadowing opportunities, or even just to meet people and find out what it’s like to work in a certain industry. And in the longer term, it’s about joining the community of your field or industry and getting to know people who are your colleagues, even if they never become your direct co-workers.
Your friends, family, and school should be your first port of call when trying to make connections in an industry. Ask adults you know if they have any friends working in fields that interest you, and whether they might be willing to chat to you about their careers. There’s really no need to be shy about this: most people love helping young people make their way into the world of work, and the worst that can happen is that they’ll say they don’t have time.
Let’s admit this up front: this can feel a bit unfair. A classmate whose aunt is a BBC producer is going to have an easier connection to the TV industry people than someone who doesn’t. But there are other routes if you feel like no one in your immediate circle has the connections you need.
For example, make sure to ask teachers and other people at your school or college. You never know who they might have links to through their friends, family, or even past work experience.
Also, many industries that rely heavily on networking, like the arts and tech start-ups, have lots of organisations and events to help young people make connections. Search online for opportunities in your field and local area.
If you feel like no one around you can connect you to the field you want, don’t despair… that’s what the internet is for. Networking is much easier with social media, and it makes it possible to connect to people even if you don’t live anywhere nearby.
Twitter and LinkedIn are the two most popular social media platforms for making professional connections. If you don’t have a LinkedIn profile yet, check out our LinkedIn guide to get started. Twitter is great for building relationships organically. Follow professionals and organisations in your field and slowly start joining in the conversations that are taking place.
Once you start using your social media as a way of networking professionally, you need to treat it differently from the social media accounts you use to connect with your friends. You may want to set up a separate account for professional purposes, or use certain platforms for networking and others for your personal life - you need to be more careful about what you post when employers are going to be reading it.
Having a chat
Don’t go into networking opportunities expecting to ask for or be offered a job. It’s a longer game than that! You’re building up relationships that may bring you opportunities down the line, not right this second.
When you’re going to be meeting someone in person, it’s wise to prepare some questions. You might find the conversation flows so naturally that you don’t need them, but it’s both polite and smart to be prepared. Some examples of things you might ask are:
- What was your path to your current job?
- Are there any courses/internships/qualifications that you think are essential for this field?
- What kind of experience should I be trying to get at this stage?
- What’s the best part about your job? What’s the worst?
- What’s one thing that you think everyone entering this field needs to know?
- Don’t ask for a job! - sorry, just had to say it one more time. Here’s what you can ask instead:
- Is there anyone else you think I should try to meet/speak with?
- Would you be willing to give me some feedback on my CV?
Just meeting once isn’t enough, of course. Here are ways to keep building your networking relationships:
- Say thank you. If you’ve met in person, make sure you send a quick thank you email!
- Keep in touch. This one can be tricky - you don’t want to be pestering them for a job! But keep an eye out for genuine reasons to connect - like if you see an article about a topic you discussed, send them an email and ask if they’ve read it and what they thought.
- Be yourself. Share your interests, ideas, and questions sincerely. Eventually, the people you network with are going to be your colleagues and even your friends. Don’t think of them as a gatekeeper who is eventually going to give you a job, but someone you’re genuinely trying to get to know.
- Reciprocate when you can. Networking feels weird because the people you’re talking to seem like they have so much power than you. But just remember the time will come when you’ll be able to use your connections to help them!