Networking is a valuable skill that helps you build relationships, make new connections, and opens doors to new opportunities. In fact, some experts say your network is your net worth: it connects you with people who add value to your career, helping you to achieve goals or discover new ones. But for many of us, the prospect of networking is daunting and approaching new people can be intimidating. If you are like me, someone who struggles with networking, don't worry, you're not alone!
Because I knowingly struggled with networking, I joined the “Learning to Network Effectively” session delivered by Stuart from the Student Development Team and Michelle from Edinburgh Innovations during the Employability and Careers Expo 2023 and, more recently, I attended a workshop presented by Joanna Young from Electv Training. Here are some tips I picked up to help improve your networking skills:
- Fake it ‘til you make it
- Start the conversation
- Know when to end the conversation
- Follow-up afterwards
If you struggle with confidence when it comes to networking, try faking it until you make it. Practise saying hello and introducing yourself to new people. It might be scary at first, but with time, you will become more comfortable and natural. Start with small steps, like saying hello to someone in the elevator or striking up a conversation with students you don’t know on campus.
Starting a conversation can be one of the most challenging aspects of networking, especially if you don't know the person you're speaking with. But by starting the conversation, you are able to position yourself in the role of the listener, asking questions rather than responding to them. This can help to build a connection because people enjoy talking about themselves with someone who is interested in what they have to say. Start by looking for a common ground. This could be anything from why the person has chosen to attend that particular event or asking more generally about their occupation and interests.
Knowing how and when to end a conversation is just as important as knowing how to start one. You want to leave a strong, lasting impression on the person rather than a forgettable one that falls flat with uncomfortable silences. When you feel like the conversation is coming to a natural close, thank the other person for their time and express gratitude for their conversation. Before parting ways, exchange contact information, email addresses or LinkedIn profiles, so that you can continue the conversation later.
Following up after a networking event is crucial to maintaining the connection you've built. Take some time to structure your follow-up message carefully. Be sure to include something personal from your conversation to jog their memory, for example, a particular topic that you both discussed. This will show that you were genuinely interested in what they had to say and will help you stand out from other people they met.
I hope that these tips are helpful in your journey to being more confident whilst networking. Remember, networking is about building relationships. So be authentic, show a sincere interest in others, and don't be afraid to take the first step. With time, practice and patience, you'll be networking like a pro in no time!
Thin Myat Noe is an MSc Marketing & Business Analysis student (2022-23)