Exeter University Student Networking Event

My overarching message about your networking activity is with regards to the quality and durability of the outcome. Frame your thinking from the beginning to understand and reflect upon the quality of the relationships that you are building. This is important for three reasons. At any forced event neither you nor the person you are trying to reach will be fully engaged so it is a ‘low odds’ situation that you will resonate with them and be memorable. Your most successful contact might easily be the organiser, or the fellow attendee that you chat to on the train as you leave. Why? Because even a small amount of interaction is the genesis of a relationship and value adding relationships will be the lifeblood of your career.

There are three main elements to creating a successful networking process that will work for you. One that you can repeat regularly, commitment is the key here. And this is a ‘for life’ process – any situation, starting a career, starting a business, and changing a career.

Element one: (Part 1 of 2) know yourself, why are you doing this? What makes you respond well? In which environments do you find it interesting to concentrate, focus and be diligent? Make sure that you have understood this and that it becomes part of your very convincing ‘front story’. This is how about you wish to be perceived and needs to be more than a pitch – something that I don’t recommend you having.

What is the important thing for somebody to remember you for, either generally or preferably specifically now? Who do you wish to be referred to and why? Do not try to be all things to all people.

To help you develop an ownership of your representation I recommend creating a 90 second (250 words) introduction to yourself. Video it. Speaking allowed is a great way of testing your commitment and ensuring that you feel strongly about the message. You are not presenting this as a talk – you are making yourself comfortable with your professional image and articulating your value. You will build flexibility into your message rather than a fixed pitch.

(Part 2 of 2) The ‘back story’ – what are you building that increases your personal strengths as an employee / entrepreneur – and your value to others that you might meet? You might reasonably be thinking ‘hang-on’ that’s the point how do I get my first job/step on the ladder. I’m suggesting that you can double up; build intellectual property whilst you search.

Examples of what I mean include developing a professional blog that doubles as your CV.

Take ideas from your studies and life experience to date, apply them to a specific challenge that you see in the industry/organisation that you wish to target. Then write about it & publish. How does this help? In your introduction to yourself you will have something interesting to say because you will have developed your thoughts. The process of writing and researching will generate ideas for people to contact. Some company websites Ford for example, have details about the characteristics they are seeking and how they can be demonstrated, create personal observations about these and write about them. You can contact the media & companies and ask to be included in panels & consumer focus groups (not the sweet testing ones!) – extending your target industry network as another route to generate material.

You will have created a body of work that can be used to enhance your CV and your networking conversations and follow through. Think of your blog site as being a proactive CV. Put some distance between it & your personal Facebook site or similar messaging tools. I can explain this in more detail if you are interested later.

Another example. The case of the ex-student that sued regarding her work placement in a shop. Clearly the student had a point – however – thinking differently, all museums & galleries use commercial revenue and sponsorship to support their charitable purpose. How could you extend your understanding of your target industry to make seemingly irrelevant experience interesting?

Element 2: A 12 Point Plan for seeking referrals by creating a campaign, one that moves you away from purely cold networking to at least lukewarm networking. This is an important differentiation and my main emphasis today.

You need to be able to sustain and repeat your contact so it is important to set yourself up professionally. Schedule the activity physically in a diary and on a wall calendar.

1)    Create a database of everyone you know. Excel or a free CRM App will do.

2)    Research your target organisations and research your contacts for links.

3)    Create a manageable timetable of reaching out to the people on your database.

4)    Plan to put in the legwork of arranging to meet face-to-face. It is very rare for this activity to be effective virtually.

a)    Don’t ask another person – or medium like Facebook, to do this for you. They, or it, will have their own interpretation or agenda and will place a ‘spin’ on you that might not be how you wish to be perceived.

5)    One potential cause of anxiety is the spectrum of ‘outward going/shy/introvert’. These aren’t problems, park worrying about them. Oddly the success in networking comes from realising that it isn’t about you. It is about understanding how you can help the object of your interest and in the case of a speed event like this one, how do you enable the person in front of you to help? This is about thinking and being polite if you are intending to use someone’s time please think through the reason for it.

6)    Think carefully about how to introduce yourself. Letters and well-planned phone calls stand out amongst the electronic messages. The ideal sequence runs –

a)    Write a letter, specify a date and time when you will call.

b)    Make the call, at the right time, remind them of your request, and always make an action step to meet them in person or be referred to your target by them personally.

c)    Follow-up on the meeting with a thank you. And repeat. (Example)

7)    Let everyone, dentist/doctor/newsagent/godparents know you are trying to reach and interested in Mr & Mrs XYZ / Firm ABC.

8)    Personalise & be specific about your request.

a)    …”Dear Joanna (Mum’s best friend)…I understand that you are a member of the IoD… on March 31st there is a talk by…I wonder if it would be possible to come as your guest…as I am interested in finding out/ meeting…” and so forth.

b)    OR “Dear Chairman of XYZ, we haven’t met but… “. Every, I cannot emphasise this enough, every organisation has the challenge of attracting and retaining the right talent. So the leaders of membership organisations (there are hundreds and the library will have a catalogue) will have programmes of activity & events designed to create access to their industry. The IoD has a student membership scheme for example.

9)     Then – most important – follow through with relevant individuals & speakers.

10) If you are gathering contacts and not following through. Stop. And work on your follow-through skills and commitment. Consider making your parents & friends aware of the timetable you have established, join a job search club, the accountability is an important factor in maintaining the necessary momentum and celebrating your success.

11)Defining success: at this stage each sensible meeting generating a sensible referral is a great goal.

12)The challenge of geography – this needs planning.

a)    You might want to build a marketing budget. Effective use of resources and how you are managing your job search professionally makes you an interesting person in your networking events.

b)    Example – are you seeking to build contacts in London/Edinburgh/Birmingham without having family & friends there? Plan the campaign to hit the University holidays and arrange to stay in the student accommodation, use the library resources and schedule back-to-back referral meetings. If you tell people you are doing this they begin to feel engaged with your plan and will seek to help you by flexing their diaries.

Element 3: Add value and migrate to where it is added

Speaking is allowed – and so is writing. Share the process and progress of your campaign. Become a graduate expert in the industry that you are targeting. Share this information – with your targets, the media and others.

Interview people in your target industry and write/blog/podcast/speak about your experiences.

My final point is please begin by being selective. Aim to build your relationships in a network with some depth and value. The Automotive and FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) industries have very diverse career opportunities and more extensive networks of people to contact. Don’t specialise too early – you probably don’t know enough yet to answer the question “ Would the best internship or first role for a Geography graduate (or you) be with an automotive manufacturer or with a land agent instead? The relationships established through networking should be designed to help you find out.

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