Careers events for students can be cagey affairs. You are placed in a room full of would-be employers, their happy, shining faces all expecting you to make the first move. How do you approach? What’s your in? Where is the refreshments stand? All of these are valid questions that may pop up in your head, but there is a good way you can approach networking events like these. A way which, if mastered, will stand you in good stead for the rest of your life.
The key to networking? It’s not about you.
What is the one thing that we are all interested in? Soap operas? Errr, no, I don’t like the depression. Football? No again, plenty of sane people find the thought of 20 year old millionaires running around, falling over every time they get tickled, as repulsive. Celebrities? One word. Jordan.
Well then, what is it?
The thing that everybody is interested in is…..Themselves! That is right, everybody’s favourite topic is Numero Uno, the big cheese. The way to be instantly accepted and liked by another person? Talk about their favourite subject (which, incidentally, is not you) and be intently interested in it. Get them to talk about, well, them. In the context of a careers event, get them to talk about the work they do, and the company they work for. You will be on to a winner.
Most people feel the need to punctuate perfectly good silence with their own opinion, thoughts, knowledge and anything else that may be impinging their brain so much, they feel the need to bestow it upon the world in the form of verbal diarrhoea. Well, you, Daniel son, are better than that. The best way to connect with somebody is to ask questions. Questions about them. Questions are the elixir of networking life.
When you are wandering around a networking event, with a plethora of exciting companies to speak to, your “in” is a question. Wait, wait, here’s a stand now! At 12 o’clock!
“What do you do for Barclays Mrs Networking Event Presenter, ma’am?”
“Oh really, that sounds interesting, how long have you been working for Barclays?”
“Wow, was that straight out of University? Fantastic, Which University did you go to?”
“No way, my sister goes there! So have you always worked in recruitment marketing, or did you start somewhere different?”
And so on and so forth. You see, they will absolutely love to regale you with their favourite tale – the Journey of Me. And you are going to humour them and listen to their every word. And look interested. Are you listening, dearie?
That last paragraph is a bit cynical. Of course you’ll be interested.
For if you want to be successful in life, you have to be interested in other people. Other people are the catalyst to get to where you want to go. You need to look after others, be interested in others, to want to be part of a group. It is rare that anybody achieves anything alone, you need other people.
By developing an interest in what others have to say, you will become the “go to” person when there is a problem. This is the primary skill of a leader. You have to become the person known for listening, showing interest, care, compassion and empathy.
All of these skills can be demonstrated at graduate networking events by your questioning, and your enthusiasm to hear the story of others.
Now you are a black belt in questioning and listening, you are able to progress on to Networking for Ninjas. The real Tour De Force of graduate networking. The art of networking is to discover other people’s problems – and then solve them.
How do you discover these problems? By further questioning of course!
Once you have asked Mrs Barclays Person about her story, you are going to get into a conversation about her business.
“So tell me, do you work with graduates in your day to day job?”
“Really, and what sort of things do you work on?”
“Awesome, are there any particular challenges that you face in that area?”
“No way, well during my degree, we did a project where we had to present data to our class. We presented our information using XXXX method (so top secret, it hasn’t been thought of). It was an effective of demonstrating our figures, perhaps it could help you present figures to your boss in future?”
“What, you want to give me the job right now? I’m sorry, I have a shortlist of offers to work through, you’ll have to join the bottom of the list – I’ll be in touch”.
Well, the conversation could go that way. The likelihood is that you will be confronted with a problem that you don’t yet know how to solve. Not a problem. You continue to ask questions, gaining more information and storing it in the back of your mind. Once you leave the event, you are going to follow up on all of the contacts you have spoken to with a nicely worded email (if you have their address – make sure you ask them for their personal card), or a look up on LinkedIn. You will say how much you enjoyed talking to them, that you hope their cat gets better soon (turns out he has a persistent fur-ball), and that you have been thinking about the problems they face as a business. You want to know how you can develop the skills to become useful in their business area.
You may not get a response, but if you do this often enough, you will become an impressive individual to this person. And guess whose name they will recognise when they are sifting through CVs?
Yep, thats right, yours Baby! So asking questions is the key.
Do your research on the companies you would like to speak to before you go to an event. Think of the questions you are likely to ask. Think of your initial “in” question. Arm yourself with enough knowledge about a company to be able to hold a conversation.
Above all, aim to learn. These people will tell you something about how they recruit graduates. Their answers will be loaded with the pleasures and frustrations they have encountered employing graduates in the past. Read between the lines of what they are saying and be that source of pleasure. Avoid being a source of frustration like the plague.
Networking, like all other employability skills, is best evidenced on Kloodle, which, incidentally, you can sign up for here!