Networking sounds daunting, so let’s break it down
“Networking” is a term you’ll probably hear a lot of through your life, but more so as you begin working towards a career.
But what does networking actually mean?
Essentially, it’s the building of purposeful relationships. You know, the ones that can add some form of value to your life (outside of socialising).
Networking at high school might seem a bit different than if you’re an already established businessperson, for example. But at the end of the end of the day, it’s pretty similar. Spending time and energy, actively seeking out and improving relationships beyond your immediate circle is networking, no matter how old you are.
Build social and professional relationships
Connecting with other students outside your friend zone for study groups, mentoring, sports etc. – that’s networking.
Developing better relationships with teachers and other professionals when you need help, would like to volunteer your time, or get experience – that’s networking too.
Working at MacDonald’s for a few hours a week and engaging with other staff members and supervisors? Yep you’ve got it, networking.
Volunteering in an organisation and making an effort to interact with other volunteers and staff, as well as clients or customers? Then you’re already networking, you might just not realise it.
Whenever you make new contacts and share information or ideas, or have meaningful conversations about relevant topics, that’s the basic definition of networking. It really is that simple.
There are plenty of benefits to networking
You might be asking yourself why you should bother networking. After all it’s an investment of your time and effort, so what could you get out of it?
Ultimately, there’s the possibility that your ‘networking connections’ could prove fruitful by creating opportunities or supporting you later down the track. For example, one of your links may provide you with:
- a great reference
- recommended you for a job
- give you the chance to join a team or project that you’re interested in
- an opportunity to learn skills that add value to your resume
- the chance to become a more competitive candidate in courses or job applications thanks to the knowledge, ideas, information or experience you learn from them.
When you’re working and studying lots of positions, from internships to promotions, are filled internally within schools, university departments and business organisations. Having established, strong connections, could mean that you’ll be the one to benefit in those situations.
Over the course of your career, if you stay focused and keep networking, you’ll end up with a large circle of acquaintances. They’ll be a great source of knowledge, provide you with up to date and relevant information, or they might send new clients and customers your way.
It’s never too early to start networking
If you’re still at high school, don’t be shy. Here’s a few simple ideas on how you could start networking, or expanding your existing network, right away.
- Join clubs, if you’re at school, uni, TAFE, or working. Find those that reflect your areas of interest or subject choices, consider signing up to others that could give you important skills. For example, sporting clubs, study groups, focused project groups, or community groups.
- Make time to chat with your parents’ friends and parents of your friends. They are a mine of information, with lots of knowledge about careers and educational pathways amongst other things. They’ll also have connections of their own, which could possibly help you tap into work experience, paid jobs and more.
- Maximise opportunities such as work experience placements at school, part time and voluntary jobs, or internships after uni. Be professional, interested and enthusiastic. Volunteer your services and take every opportunity to learn from and chat to others in the organisation. You never know where it could lead, one day they could even offer you a job.
- Put your social media accounts and knowledge to good use. Learn more about LinkedIn and Twitter, for example, or learn about new platforms. Think about connections you’d like to make, other people and businesses you’d like to follow.
Do your research and remember that everything on any of social media accounts could be linked and visible to your network connections and potential employers. So, keep them “clean” and make sure they’ll reflect you in a good light.
By the time you leave high school or graduate from university you could be surprised with how large your network is.
What are networking skills?
Hopefully we’ve convinced you that you can and should take networking a bit more seriously. Maybe you’re planning on taking a more active role and increasing your network connections.
Well, in addition to creating more contacts, networking could provide you with experience and other skills. These will come in handy in life, and they’ll also help you boost your resume so remember to include:
Building relationships and sharing knowledge requires speaking. Learning to talk to people in different age groups, professional levels, and from different walks of life is a very valuable tool.
Active listening is important too – really concentrating on what you’re being told, not interrupting, responding thoughtfully and remembering what is being said. Might sound easy, but it’s a skill that requires practise.
Recognising and understanding unspoken cues such as gestures, facial expressions, eye contact, and body language are important too. Knowledge and understanding of these could improve your customer service skills, help you to conduct yourself professionally, and reinforce the messages you’re communicating verbally.
Mastering public speaking early in life could put you at an advantage during interviews and other meetings where making a good and lasting impression is important. By joining clubs, working, and networking, you could be constantly improving your ability to speak well and confidently in the public arena.
Other Interpersonal skills
In addition to communication, there are other skills that your networking could help you develop or illustrate on your CV. Examples might include:
- Team working
- Problem solving
- Decision making
- Positive attitude
Note: Don’t add these skills or attributes to your resume unless you can provide examples of where you have demonstrated these skills in an interview.
A side note to remember
Networking is a two-way street. People won’t include you in their circle if you don’t contribute your own ideas and information.
Volunteering your services, introducing people to others who might be beneficial, or recommending your connections (or their services) are all ways you can add value to your network relationships.