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  • Christopher Willis

“It takes a village” - 7 tips for effective networking

Networking is essential, not just in building your career but in navigating new spaces and cultivating new relationships. Unfortunately, many young people feel intimidated by the term and those who partake often fail to reap the benefits in their entirety. The purpose of this article is to not only outline the benefits of networking but also offer 7 tips to ensure you are networking effectively.

So why is networking so important:

Access to information

There is a well-known African proverb that says it takes a village to raise a child and I find its application in this context profound. The child is your career and the village is your network, no one finds success alone. At many times in your life, whether it’s personal, academic, or career related, you need guidance. Having a well-developed network will allow you to seek advice from people who have more life experience. They can give you information that others don’t have access to thus giving you an advantage over others.

Can learn from a diverse range of people

Many jobs and recruiters look for well-rounded people and when it comes to learning a new skill sometimes it can be difficult to know where to start. You may want to start coding but don’t know which language to go for, reaching out to a tech-savvy friend in your network could give you the push you need. Or maybe you want to pick up a language and you met an avid linguist while you were networking at your favourite bank. You never know which trade you’ll decide to master next and having a diverse network will be very useful.

Creates new opportunities

Being proactive and seeking out opportunities on your own accord is a much needed trait, but coupled with a diverse and supportive network, the opportunities are endless. When an opportunity arises, you want people to think of you. This can present itself in many ways, for example, someone may see an exclusive internship and encourage you to apply, someone may be in the position to recommend you for an interview, or someone may want to introduce you to a contact of theirs that could be of benefit to you. Doors you didn’t even know existed will open because you have the right group of people around you.

Builds confidence

The process of networking, be it at a busy event or a private 1-on-1 chat, helps to build your confidence. You become more adept at starting and engaging in conversations with people you don’t know very well, you become more comfortable talking about yourself in a favourable way, and this confidence will help you make good first impressions and succeed in the future.

Now that we’ve established why networking is so important, here are 7 top tips for effective networking:

1. Listen actively

Many people advise you to network with a clear set of objectives and a prescribed set of questions. I agree with the premise of having a goal and preparing questions can help you contribute to conversations, especially in group settings, but this can make things feel unnatural. Listening actively allows you to draw on what the other person says and adapt your response to incorporate it. This also means that you vary the amount you let the other person speak. You have to guide the conversation and strike a delicate balance between contributing enough to be memorable and allowing the person to share their knowledge. This is a difficult skill but once perfected will allow you to remember more about the people you meet and improve the quality of your relationships.

2. Identify common interests

In group settings, you want to be memorable. You want to find a way to differentiate yourself from all the other people they speak to that day. Identifying common interests is a great way to do this. It allows you to connect with people beyond conversations about work. An easy way to do this is to ask how they spend their free time. Not only does this make it possible to find a common interest, it can also provide an avenue to follow-up (which I will expand on later).

3. Mutual exchange

Creating a two-way relationship is most important in two contexts: networking online and managing an existing relationship. When you message someone online, it’s likely that you are going to ask something of them, be it a question or a favour. To increase your likelihood of success, it’s a good idea to offer something in return. Similarly, quid pro quos are a good way to maintain existing relationships without becoming a drag.

4. Time management

When you go to a networking event, there are lots of different people to speak to, but you only have limited time. You must be conscious of how you spend your time to make sure you get the most out of the event. The division of your time need not be equal, there may be a representative who works in the division of your choice and you therefore choose to devote more time to them. Likewise, you don’t have to speak to everyone, the quality of your interactions is more important than the quantity.

5. Follow-up

Many people talk about the importance of following up with the people you meet and for good reason. As I mentioned in tip 2, being memorable is important and in order to develop your relationship past that initial meeting, you have to follow-up. The manner and frequency with which you do this will vary from person to person. For example, you may have asked an associate for application advice and you choose to email letting them know you’ve applied and you ask how their work is going or you may have spoken about on ongoing piece of news and decide to organise a phone call to discuss it. Finally, if you remember any of the common interests you identified (tip 2), this is a great time to ask about them.

6. Connecting people

Helping to connect people with one another doesn’t go unappreciated. Once you have developed your network, it shouldn’t just benefit you. If someone asks you for a favour and you know of someone perfectly placed to help, you should introduce them to each other. Not only is this a sign that your network is well established but it also means that others are more inclined to help you in the future.

7. Practice practice practice

Networking is not something to be afraid of. As with many things that seem daunting at first, confronting them is the solution. You may not feel comfortable straight away but the truth is practice makes perfect. Universities, student organisations, and companies provide countless opportunities to network with such a wide range of people and you should take full advantage. I hope the tips and tricks laid out in this article will help you create the network you deserve.

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