Written by Elizabeth Wilkinson, Postgraduate Careers Consultant at The Careers Service
You know everyone tells you to network for your career, but you don’t like hassling people – what should you do?
This is the piece of advice I give most often to postgrads – how to take the pain out of networking.
Why is networking important?
In many careers, getting “inside information” is invaluable.
- It can help you decide whether a career is really for you – much better to be able to ask questions than just to read a career profile.
- You can get information to help you target your applications – why do other people enjoy that type of work or working for that employer; does that fit with what you want? It is also much more impressive to quote a conversation with an employee, rather than a company website (which all other candidates will have seen).
- Sometimes, making good contacts can lead to you finding out about jobs before they are advertised.
Take the hassle out of your networking meetings
If the sister of one of your friends contacted you, wanting to know what it was like doing a postgraduate degree at the University of Manchester, would you mind spending 20 minutes or so telling her about your experience?
Most postgrads would be perfectly happy doing this:
- She’s your friend’s sister – not just some random person contacting you out of the blue, asking you for a favour.
- You have all the information you need (she’s just asking about your experience).
- She doesn’t expect you to find a place for her on a postgraduate course.
- 20 minutes is not difficult to fit into your day, particularly if she’s prepared to come to you and buy you a coffee while you talk.
- It’s quite enjoyable talking about your own experience – and flattering that someone else wants to know.
You would like some help and advice from someone in a career you’re trying to break into.
Translate the experience above into networking for your own career and you can see how to make your own networking meetings hassle-free:
- One of your own contacts, or a “friend of a friend” is far more likely to agree to talk to you, than someone you don’t know.
- Always ask for information, never ask for a job (at this stage).
- Where possible, focus on your contact’s career, rather than your own ambitions (they may not feel “qualified” to give you personal advice). Their circumstances may be very different from yours, but you can still draw lessons from their experience of breaking into, or progressing in a career.
- Make it easy for them to say yes – 20 minutes is long enough for you to get some good information (as long as you think about your questions beforehand), but short enough to fit into a working day. Offer to meet for breakfast (the coffees are on you) if they can’t meet you at work.
How to take it to the next level
- Be clear about what you’re asking for when requesting a meeting – information only, timing – and mention who gave you their name.
- Be flexible but don’t give up if they don’t respond immediately.
- If you get a meeting, take along a copy of your latest CV and ask for their feedback. This could be format or content – is there anything critical missing from your experience, and how could you fill any gaps?
- Unless they ask for a copy, don’t leave your CV with them – follow up with a thank you letter or email, and enclose an amended CV … “just for information”. This shows you have taken their advice on board and they now have an updated, targeted copy of your CV for future reference.
- Ask if there is anyone else they could recommend who you should talk to. If they give you a couple of names, make sure you follow them up. They will probably ask these contacts if you ever got in touch with them. If you haven’t, it looks like you’re not very interested – or that you didn’t value their advice.
- In your “thank you” letter or email, you can add the comment:
“If you hear of any jobs coming up in this field, just drop me an email and I’ll follow it up myself”.
This leaves your contact with a targeted CV, your contact details and an impression of a real person. If, at a later stage, they are recruiting, this is much better than being one of a hundred random CVs landing in their inbox.
Can you turn a networking meeting into work experience or a job?
If a contact has agreed to meet you, just to give you some information, it would be very bad manners to put them on the spot and ask them directly for work. It would also be embarrassing for both of you if they weren’t very impressed by you and said no – or avoided making any commitments.
However, you could ask how people find work experience or jobs in their field, or how their employer fills jobs when they are vacant. You may get some good advice on which adverts or agencies to look out for, or which entry-level jobs to target. Plus, it does also open the door for them to offer some work shadowing or work experience, if they are impressed by you.