We all talk about the importance of having a network. But how do you build one, and how do you add value?
For a start, you may want to clarify who now are and who ideally should be members of your network. Family members, friends, and buddies in your study program are already a part of your network. Therefore, you have a network whether you intended it or not. Once you have given this some thought, you may address the matter strategically:
Who would you like to add?
Would certain persons, organisations, or job roles add value?
With a deliberate strategy for your current and ideal network, you may now explore the path toward gaining a benefit. What you get out of the network is very much related to the value you put in. If you are not willing to give of yourself and provide value for the network, you should not expect value in return.
Decide what you want to gain and what you have to offer. Be as specific and ambitious as possible. That way, others will find it easier to determine how they may contribute.
Expand your network
The further along you are in your studies, the more benefit you will get out of reviewing your network.
How did it evolve while you were studying?
Have new people joined?
Have members of the network changed their job or job function? Say, a fellow student might have switched to a different program. If so, this individual may have moved from being a close contact in your study group to being a more distant professional contact.
At all times, you should keep an eye on the value you bring to the network; that’s how you will get the best value out of it. Make an effort to document how you have used your network during the last year.
You may want to take a step in the direction of having a professional network in which your participation is motivated by career related considerations. This could involve internal UCL networks, sitting on a board of directors, or setting up a LinkedIn profile.
There are many opportunities to build networks. That said, it’s not always easy. What you need to do is network in your own way. If your networking is not genuine, it won’t last.
LinkedIn is a useful tool in several ways:
It lets you show off your professional profile and make yourself attractive to potential employers.
It helps you find out a great deal about the job market.
It facilitates building an online network to link up with people you don’t already know.
One way to use it is to explore various careers and get to know more about others’ careers. What career path led to the ideal job you are looking for? Look up jobs of interest, like marketing coordinator, construction foreman, financial adviser, programmer, or nurse manager, or check out independent professions like physiotherapy. Check the career path in the profiles you find. Were there “stepping stone” jobs or continuing education programs? In other words, what path did others take toward the type of work you are aiming for?
Or, look up profiles with educational backgrounds similar to yours and check the current employment. This serves as an inspiration and clarification as to potential career paths. Seeing how others got to their current job may inspire you by giving you an understanding of “what it takes”. Keep in mind that there is never just one correct path; use the information to feed your imagination.
Should you find an appealing profile, look to see if you may have connections in common. If you do, perhaps you could set up a meeting. In contacting a connection, show interest in his or her career and ask whether you might learn a bit more as to the career choices made. Most people are happy to share information about themselves. Given that fact, invite yourself for a chat. However, you must be prepared. Have ready some questions and topics you want to learn about.
In addition, LinkedIn is useful in expanding your professional network and letting you join groups of professionals. Here, you can point to your skills, and as your network grows, you improve your odds of being found by others.
Five tips for networking
You must give in order to get.
Keep that in mind at all times. To reap a benefit, you must have something to offer in return. Consider what you have to offer – your knowledge, your skills, your contacts – in any given situation. Perhaps you know someone who could be helpful to a contact, or perhaps your professional skill would be useful to someone.
Be curious and keep an open mind.
It’s easier to build a good relationship if you show curiosity and an open-minded attitude. Prepare some questions or topics to discuss in areas that made the individual interesting to you. Strive to understand the individual and the effort to get to where he or she is today. Curiosity helps strengthen the relationship in the short and long term.
Take advantage of the fact that people like to talk about themselves.
We love to talk about ourselves. When others show an interest in us, we are usually quite happy to tell our story. Therefore, show an interest in others’ work tasks and job functions. Demonstrate that you genuinely want to know about their career choices or current projects. When you show such interest, you might entice them to meet for a coffee. Who knows, that very coffee could be the occasion where you identify some stepping stones to your ideal job.
When meeting a new or existing contact, it’s important to be prepared. What do you want to get out of the meeting, and what are you ready to offer? Craft 5 questions or goals for the meeting. These questions serve as the framework for your conversation, and being well prepared signals to the contact that you value the meeting.
That is the most important piece of advice of all. Keep reminding yourself to be yourself. If you try playing a part, it will become apparent sooner or later. Be yourself – your best self. Think of situations in which you did well. Say, in group assignments, at an exam, in a student job, or in pursuing a leisure activity. Keeping such positive situations in your thoughts helps you perform at your best.