This week I ran a workshop for graduate students from the University of Adelaide. It was great to spend time with young motivated people. I was surprised that I had to sell them on the importance of networking. In every industry you work with interacting with people. All of us have a personal network for our well-being, an operational network of people that we interact with on a daily basis. We need to think bigger and plan a strategic network. This strategic network is where the job offers are, the promotions and the business opportunities. 

Some important factors to consider:

  • You will need to build your network well before you will need it

One of the comments that came out of the session I ran was “I haven’t finished my degree; I’ll wait till I’m in the workforce before I start networking.” It is estimated that 75% of jobs are not advertised. You need to be visible and have developed relationships before you need them.  

One of the participants shared the story on how she went to a networking event and chatted to some of the senior employees and developed a relationship. They then asked her to catch up for coffee. This then resulted in a meeting with the partners and she was asked attended a formal interview, and was offered a job. 

  • It’s okay to be proactive – in fact it’s essential!

There is a myth that good products will sell themselves. In networking you are the product. By the final year of university you should have an understanding of your experience, skills and values. You should also have a shortlist of the type of companies and organisations you want to work for. Now is the time to be proactive. 

Google the companies and uncover what their challenges and priorities are. Call the reception desk and ask if they have any networking events that are open to the public. Follow the organisation on LinkedIn and start to read what the senior partners are up to. Comment on their articles, and send a personalised request to connect. 

Questions were raised on how assertive you should be. Networking requires pleasant, patient, persistence in order to develop rapport. When someone says ‘no’ respect their decision and acknowledge the timing is not right and try another avenue. 

When working on business relationships I look for “Permission to proceed.” This is where someone says “That’s interesting I’d love to talk further.” 

  • When you connect with someone ensure you add value 

Years ago when I started in the pharmaceutical industry the age of 22 my mother said to me “If you’re going to be a rep make sure you add value.” It is important to remember that the people you are trying to network with our busy. Be respectful of their time. If you do catch up with them for coffee, arrive early, find quite spot and make sure you offered to pay for the cappuccino! Do not overstay your welcome and have a clear objective of what you want to get out of this meeting. 

As I said to the students, my son who is in year 12, is developing his strategic network for his future career as a commercial pilot. By the time he finishes his degree he will have three to four years of networking experience and building contacts in the industry.

The time to start building your network is now.

Sharon Ferrier
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