Make Use of Your Network

 

Most people use networks in one way or another to achieve what they want. When searching for the right job, your network can be essential.

WHAT IS NETWORKING?

Networking is all about interacting socially with the people you come into contact with via your studies, your work and in all other areas of your life. A network is strongest when it also includes elements of compatibility, respect and friendship and is not based solely on stone-cold calculation. Networking is not something new; people have more or less always networked. But if you are conscious about how you go about it, you can increase how much you benefit from the network you already have, and utilise it to help you achieve your goals.

You may not realise it, but you already have a network. You can call it a naive, passive or dormant network. It consists of your family, your classmates, your team-mates, people you meet at dinner parties or anywhere else you spend time. The university is, of course, important as that is where you meet people within your own field of study. Thus, socialising and building contacts is by no means a waste of time.


Social intelligence

Some people have a knack for establishing contacts as they are outgoing and communicate easily with others. For people with this kind of social intelligence, networking is almost automatic. People who are more introverted and shy find it more difficult to build a network. However, by keeping certain things in mind, it is possible – regardless of whether you are extroverted or introverted – to optimise your networking and expand your network in an appropriate direction.

Be yourself

Opinions vary about whether everyone can benefit from networking. Some believe that anyone can learn it, while others believe that active networking requires a certain personality. However, you should never try to change who you are when networking, as it can easily appear artificial and strained. If you do that, you will only achieve the opposite and promote yourself in a negative way rather than in a positive way.

Be focused

In order to target your networking efforts as much as possible, it is important to know what goal you are working towards. If you are after a job with a specific company, you can begin by contacting that company in connection with course assignments. That can help you establish contacts which can prove useful later. It is a good idea to have something specific to offer so that the company gets a real product out of the deal. But often, you will find, as a student, that you are met with considerable goodwill by companies, and this you should exploit.

Networking within your field of study

It is very useful to know people with the same academic background as yourself, and whom you can contact if you find you need help from a colleague you are not in competition with. That is why it is important to spend your time at university establishing contacts. You can do this by forming study groups with other students you get on well with both academically and socially. Combining academic interests with compatibility and friendship creates strong network relations.

Lunch

One trick is to have lunch with people you might benefit from knowing. That way, you don't just become another card in the pile or another name without a face. Instead you get to know one another and if you are lucky you develop an affinity, so that in future you will want to help each other. It is probably not very realistic to make a lunch date with the CEO of the company where you would like a student job. Instead, you can try to arrange lunch with some former students from your university who are currently working for that company. That way, you develop a relationship with some people who might be able to put in a good word on your behalf if a job opportunity arises. Remember that an estimated 60-80 per cent of all jobs in the private sector are never advertised publicly.

Do favours

One good way to expand your network is by doing favours for others. Obviously, it would be best if you could help someone who can help you achieve your goals and whom you are trying to incorporate into your network. But a good rule in networking is never to rule out anyone as they may one day prove useful in your network. You should therefore always be a kind, pleasant and amiable person whom people want to help. You should not demand the help of others, but rather offer them your help.

USE YOUR NETWORK

You can't expect to harvest the fruits of your networking right away, and it also takes time to build a good network. That is why it is important to get started while you are still at university, so that when you need it, you will have a broad and efficient network to draw upon.

Don't hold back

When you need your network, don't be afraid to use it. Otherwise your network is useless. Be open to situations and persons you can use to network. Parties and nights on the town can be excellent for active networking, and people you meet on social occasions can later turn out to be useful for your network. However, it is not a good idea to force something into the social situation. It is better to meet again later to 'talk business'.

Follow-up

It is also a good idea to follow up on meetings with people who might be interesting for your network. For instance, if you exchange business cards (if you have one – otherwise you should perhaps consider getting one) or telephone numbers, you should get back to them not too long after your first meeting just to let them know that they are not forgotten. That way, they are also reminded of who you are, and your chances of being remembered in future are greater.