Career development: Professional networking tips for students
AS students who attended our first professional networking night discovered last week, it can be hard work striking up a conversation in a room full of strangers. With a background in HR, Ruth Budiman provides some practical tips on how you can make the most of every networking opportunity.
1. Be likeable.
It doesn’t take long to make a first impression, so make it a good one! Look presentable, wear a smile, and give good, confident handshakes. It may also be necessary to have a mint or two.
Maintain eye contact to keep the other person engaged in the conversation, and be sincere! Also remember that networking is simply about connecting with other people. Most people love to talk about themselves, so allow them to do so. But balance the conversation with some talk about you, otherwise it would be more like an interview!
2. Come ready to talk about you.
Easy conversation starters often include questions such as, “So tell me about yourself?”, “What do you do?” or “Tell me about the company you work for.” Make sure you have some answers ready.
Things you can talk about include what course you are currently enrolled in or organisations that you volunteer at. If you’re engaged in part-time work or undertaking an internship, talk about your role in the company. It would also be appropriate to talk about your career aspirations, and the companies you’d like to work for. When talking about the company or organisation you’re involved in, it is important to have a short spiel ready – you want to represent them well.
Having your business cards ready to give out is also a must. It’s a networking session after all, and the objective is to stay in touch.
3. What you wear counts.
Your appearance plays a huge role in making a first impression. So dress appropriately for the occasion. When in doubt, it is always better to overdress than underdress! If you really want to make sure, just give the person running the networking event a call and ask them what sort of clothes they’ll be wearing.
4. Build rapport.
We’ve often been taught that the key to building good relationships with others is to treat them the way you want to be treated. But the key to building rapport with others is in actual fact to treat others the way THEY want to be treated. Why? If the people you speak with feel they had a good chat with you, and that you both seemed to get along well, they will most likely remember you.
You can build rapport by picking up on and adjusting to the other person’s communication style. And yes, treating others the way they want to be treated will require you to modify your communication to some degree with every person you meet.
5. Make the most of every opportunity.
Be attentive to the world around you. Opportunities present themselves all the time, and can come up in the most unlikely places.
David Topus, author of Talk to Strangers, gives some invaluable advice when it comes to attitudes towards life: Almost everyone you meet can enhance your life in some way, even if it isn’t obvious from the beginning. He encourages people to take advantage of the encounters that happen in their everyday life, which he believes can expand your career, business, income and life. He says people need to realise that most people are willing to connect if approached appropriately and respectfully. But it’s not just about receiving, he says. You can also enhance the life of everyone you meet – be it in expertise, experience, services or insight.
So be ready for random encounters between lectures, at airports or on airplanes, at cafes and conferences, in the elevator or even while you’re doing your grocery shopping. You never know who you will meet.
How would you conduct yourself in a networking environment? How have your previous networking experiences been?