Networking is about who you know, and who knows you. It's about conversations; people learning about and helping each other and relationship building. As a student, building a strong network helps you shape your pathway, gain experience, and so often leads to pivotal opportunities. An active networker is always open to opportunities to talk to people about what they do/are studying and what they are interested in doing. They look for opportunities to help others and they nurture relationships by following up and following through. The more people who know and understand what you're trying to achieve, the more they can help you achieve it.

Be ready to talk about yourself: You do need to be ready to talk specifically about what you're studying and what you are interested in doing (even if these are still ideas and not set in stone). Tip: Practice describing out loud what you're interested in. Your "30 second outline" will be important when talking to new contacts, and the clearer you are, the easier it is for others to help you.

Here are 2 stages of networking that you can actively make happen:

    1. Start with making a list of the people you know
    2. Consider friends, family, family friends, university friends, teaching staff, and members of clubs or societies you belong to. Ensure the list has current information with their contact details, background, area of experience and any other relevant information. These are the first people to contact because they'll be more likely to want to help you find a job, and their referrals will be stronger because they know you well.
    3. Informational interviews

What is it?

A 10-20 minute interview/chat with someone in a 'position of interest', with an objective of learning about them, their career pathway, their organisation, industry, to gain their advice/perspective on your direction and to potentially build your network and uncover hidden job opportunities.

How do I do it?

  1. Make a map of people in positions of interest to you. For example, someone in a role you'd love five years from now; someone in a related industry; a researcher in the field; a liaison from an industry body; someone self employed in your industry etc.
  2. Plan a series of informational interviews with these people. Check your contact list for referral opportunities.
  3. Preparation: get a good understanding of the contact's organisation, and prepare a list of questions for the meeting. Ask questions that are fun to answer! d) Make the call.
    If you have a personal referral, you might say: 'Hi Margaret. Henry Roche suggested I contact you. My name is Phillipe. I'm studying structural engineering and I'm specialising in reinforced concrete bridges, but am keen to get as much insight into the industry as I can...I am wondering if you might spare a quick 15 minutes over a coffee to share to ask your views and advice with me......... ' I'm happy to come to you whenever is most convenient.'
    If you don't have a personal referral, just be confident and try the same approach.
  4. The meeting: remember you are primarily asking for advice and information, and in the process may uncover potential job opportunities.
    Some questions might include:
      • How did you come to be in this role?
      • What does your typical day/ week look like?
      • What do you enjoy most about your role?
      • What are the challenges and frustrations, and how do you cope with them?
      • Are there any accreditations or specialisations that are of particular value in the industry right now?
      • What type of person does well in this industry?
      • What sorts of career moves have you seen colleagues make?
      • Do you have any advice for me?
      • (If you feel the conversation's going well, ask...) It sounds like a great place to work...are there any voluntary/internship opportunities that you are aware of?
      • Or...Is there anyone else doing this sort of work you think I should talk to?

If you're speaking with an expert in your field, who might potentially become a mentor, try the TIARA approach:

Trends: What trends are you seeing in .... Insights - What's your biggest 'a ha!' moment?

Advice: If you were me, what would you be doing?

Resources: What resources do you recommend? Do you have a contact ?

Assignments: What projects have you been involved with that have been particularly impactful for you?

5. Debrief and follow up
Keep a detailed log of the information/insights you gained at your meetings. This exploratory exercise can create new branches on your career map. You don't know what you don't know! Always send an email or note to thank the contact for their time and insights. Connect with them on LinkedIn or follow their Twitter feed if appropriate - seek ways to maintain the connection.

Tip: Aim for 6-10 informational interviews. Some will be more fruitful than others, but imagine the information, ideas and possibilities that can stem from those meetings!

Tip: Be careful not to close the door on opportunities if they do not perfectly fit the end goal - sometimes a two week block of administrative work or a referral to someone you don't think currently relevant can establish connections that will last long term.

Feel the fear and do it anyway!

Invariably, the hardest part is making the connection and the phone call. Once you're engaged in a meeting with someone, it's usually not so intimidating. Remember most people enjoy helping others, and talking about themselves. The challenge is fitting conveniently into their schedule.

Nurture the contacts

Once you've made a connection, keep in touch every few months (email/LinkedIn) and let them know any developments in your career. Most people will be interested in how things have turned out. This also enables them to reconnect with you if an opportunity arises within their network.

Networking Events

What are they?

Professional associations in your industry often hold events that include time to mingle and chat. With so many relevant people in one room, these can be a great forum to meet a few people working in your field.

Tip: Exchange business cards, and within a few days follow up with a phone call to ask for a face to face chat at their place of business. For example: "Hi Sami, My name's Jessica. We met at the fundraising event on Monday night. I'm just wondering whether I could perhaps make a time to meet with you for about to ask you a few questions about your role and industry? As you know..I'm interested in exploring this field and seeking advice.."