Networking – it’s one thing students know we’re supposed to do but are too intimidated to pursue.
While opportunities to network are always available, most of us are simply too scared to attend events.
With this in mind, I’ve asked two student leaders to share some of their networking tips.
“Have an idea of who’s going, what they’re looking for and how you fit into that picture.” —Ruby Lin, vice-president corporate relations, AIESEC SFU
Part of their work is to seek out opportunities to market international internships to local businesses, so they have both honed their networking skills through their involvement with AIESEC SFU. Here are their top tips.
Prepare, prepare and prepare some more
Lin stresses the importance of research before an event. Part of this is having a clear idea of your priorities. “Have an idea of who’s going, what they’re looking for and how you fit into that picture.”
Both Lin and Buiza say they also recommend having an idea of what you’d like to talk about. Practice your elevator pitch; it is inevitable that someone would ask you to talk about yourself.
Research should tell you what the dress code is. If you’re not sure, go with business formal.
Lin also advises students to look good but be comfortable. Wear shoes that will not hurt your feet – uncomfortable shoes will not motivate you to walk around. Also, make sure you’re well-groomed. Keep your nails clean and cut. For women, this means no chipped nail polish!
Be interested, ask questions
One of the reasons why networking intimidates students is because they don’t know what to talk about. Many get stuck after “hello.”
Buiza says she recommends preparing a handful of topics, such as asking what they thought of the presenter’s talk at the event you’re attending. People are eager to talk about themselves, so ask questions about their company or profession and take a genuine interest in their story.
But what do you do when you have no clue what the other person is talking about? Lin suggests asking for clarification. “Have a sincere conversation. Ask for clarification even if you think it may sound dumb. There’s a lot of jargon these days, and you’re not going to know it all.”
As a backup, Buiza says she recommends reading the news on the day of the event. Take a quick scan on the sports, business and politics sections.
Of course, make sure you bring your business cards. Always offer your business cards and never hesitate to ask for other people’s.
One crucial step that students often forget is to follow up.
In a typical networking event, you’ll meet many people and may get overwhelmed at the amount of information you receive. Lin shares this advice: “Have a notebook and pen with you at all times. After talking to a person and they’re out of sight, quickly jot down the details the person gave you.” You can then use this information to personalize your follow up.
So, when should you follow up? It depends on the rapport you’ve built. It can be as quick as the day after. Be sure to let the person know you’re going to follow up.
Hone your skills
Becoming great at networking won’t happen overnight. Continue to do research to get better at it. There are many resources available, but Buiza says she recommends the following:
- School clubs and organizations – for instance, Toastmaster clubs to improve your public speaking skills or AIESEC to help with your sales/networking skills
- Blogs and online resources such as TalentEgg
- Effective communication books (such as How To Instantly Connect with Anyone by Leil Lowndes)
Make sure you apply what you learn and look for networking events. Check associations that spark your interest and look up newspapers or local blogs to keep yourself updated with happenings around the city. Sites such as Meetup.com also offer many less formal alternatives.
Networking is something you’ll eventually have to do regardless of your industry. Use these tips from student leaders as a base and continue to develop this important skill.