What is Networking and why is it so important?
When I first heard the term ‘networking’ I cringed.
In my mind, it involved floating around a stuffy room, champagne in hand, schmoozing with an agenda to climb the social/corporate ladder.
And with that in mind, I thought that networking wasn’t for me. Too much effort. Too fake.
I was wrong, and I have learnt a lot since then.
So what is ‘Networking’? I explored various dictionary definitions, and while some sound a lot like what I described above, I prefer this one by Merriam-Webster:
net·work·ing | \ ˈnet-ˌwər-kiŋ \
1. the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions.
2. the establishment or use of a computer network.
Now, as a Computer Scientist, I do value the second definition, but let’s focus on the first.
Why do I like this? Because there is nothing nefarious about the ‘exchange of information’; this is what I like to call a ‘conversation’. By this definition, talking to your gran is networking. Catching up with your school friends is networking.
I’ve come to realise that networking isn’t about thinking ‘What can this person do for me?’ but about genuinely building relationships. It could even be about ‘What can I do for them?‘.
And if one insists on thinking about the personal benefit of networking, the value is not in what someone can do for you, but the person themselves. Their personality, their knowledge and their access to their own networks.
It’s about building social capital.
Here’s what I’ve learnt about networking and how to go about it. A lot of it has come from attending skills workshops in the Undergraduate Skills Programme.
Networking – An Overview
Everyone I know is part of my network.
The people in my network fall into a number of categories including:
- Family – immediate and extended
- Friends – school friends, uni friends
- Students on my course / similar courses – who I may not know very well, but we have a lot in common in terms of interests and ambitions
- Students at my uni – we’re all part of the Warwick community
- People I’ve worked with – past employers, past co-workers
- People in my industry who I don’t know personally, but follow – people I met at the regular careers fairs at Warwick, follow on LinkedIn etc.
At first, I spent a lot of time worrying about the last two on the list, thinking that that was what networking was about. I was too focused on trying to meet new people.
It was at a recent networking workshop that I was told that this is not the best way to approach networking. Instead, I should put more effort into my existing relationships – especially with peers. This is because these people know me and/or are in a similar situation as me, and together we can help each other out.
The key thing is listen and be helpful. It may be tempting to not share information and opportunities – a competitive mentality – but in the long term, it’s better to think that we’re all on the same team. When you help people, they will help you back. Sharing is caring! 🙂
When it does come to expanding my network, I’ve achieved most of this online.
In response to the words ‘online’ and ‘professional networking’, LinkedIn is the first social media platform that comes to mind.
LinkedIn is not just for working professionals, but students. I would really recommend joining the platform for the following reasons:
- Whenever I meet someone in person, I can just give them my LinkedIn to stay in touch in a professional capacity e.g. students I’ve met during an internship
- I can follow potential employers and keep up to date with news – really useful for interviews
- Potential employers can find me – I have been approached by a number of recruiters from various companies, ranging from start-ups to graduate agencies to well-known brands
- I can browse job/internship opportunities that are advertised on the platform and apply – I find this feature more useful for discovering what jobs are out there rather than the application part
I created a profile in my first year, following a LinkedIn workshop in Warwick SU’s Skills Festival. A LinkedIn profile is like an online CV, but with a lot more personality and no page limit. It’s also a way to tell my story – what I have done, what I’m interested in and where I want to go.
The profile is arguably the easy part. But the real networking is in building connections (like friends on Facebook).
A key thing I learnt about LinkedIn is this: you need to put a lot of effort into gaining the first 50-70 connections – that is, searching for people and making requests. After that, it’s easier for people to find you through mutual connections. At about 100 connections I really started to see the benefits I described above, and less effort was required. So keep at it!
So overall, my experience with networking is this:
At first, it seems like a lot of effort. This is especially exhausting if I approach networking as a means to an end – where with each person I talk to, I think ‘How useful is this relationship?‘.
Instead, treat networking is as simply socialising, but with an extra effort to share information. Don’t be afraid to ask ‘personal’ questions about what someone is interested in, or what they are looking to do. Active listening and a genuine interest in the lives of others is something we can all exercise with little cost to ourselves. I can’t find the origin of this quote, but I do like it and it’s really useful to keep in mind while networking:
Everyone you meet has something to teach you.