Career Accelerator Series Part 2: How to network like a boss
By Vicky Simao
I’ve always been intrigued by the term ‘soft skills’. After all, they’re hard to get!
Like a muscle, they need to be exercised often in order to build and strengthen. No one becomes Dwayne Johnson overnight.
In business, your ability to network effectively will become one of the most important skills in your career. It’s the avenue by which you can make meaningful career connections and add an energy to your story that can’t be found in a CV or LinkedIn profile. It brings you to life and gives you the chance to make an impression.
This ability to build relationships and communicate effectively will also benefit any future roles you undertake. The more you network, the more confident you’ll become in building unique, meaningful relationships with people – a desirable quality in effective leaders.
But I get it – sometimes networking can seem a little intimidating. Where do I start? What do you say? How do I say it? Do I follow the person on LinkedIn after, or is that weird?
I sat down to have a chat with Career Accelerator’s lead on networking events, Elena Holland, to field some of your burning questions:
How do I approach someone (especially when I feel nervous?)
Take a deep breath – don’t let nervousness stop you! It’s normal to feel hesitant when it’s the first time we’re trying something new. But remember – every person who attends a networking event are there for the same reason as you! They will be happy to give you their time, and you’ll build your confidence with each proactive step forward.
If you’re in a physical space, approach someone who is standing by themselves and introduce yourself. If you're online, turn on your video and speak up when Q & A starts.
What are some good conversation starters? Small talk – yay or nay?
Small talk is good! Don’t feel pressured to have deeply moving questions. A simple ‘how’s your day been today?’ is a tried and true icebreaker. But it’s always good to have some conversation starters ready to go (and being prepared with some will help you feel less nervous, too).
Some other good, open-ended conversation starters could include:
- What brings you to this event?
- What’s your interest in this topic/area?
- What are you hoping to learn from this webinar/speaker/company/event?
You can also lead the conversation. For example:
- I'm looking forward to this event because....
- I’m really interested in this speaker/topic/discussion because…
- I’m studying [degree], and I’m looking forward to this event/hearing this speaker/learning more about this topic, because…
Start small and simple – once the conversation gets started, you’ll be good to go!
How do I talk about myself, in a way that’s interesting to others?
The best way to think of it is - what’s your ‘elevator pitch’? Your degree, your interests and any extracurricular activities you engage in. Find a way to express who you are, what you do, and where you want to be – then practice it.
Practice in front or the mirror or role play with a peer/friend. It sounds cheesy, but it helps! Think about it – if you get some awkwardness and nervous laughs out of the way in practice, you’ll feel less nervous when the real experience rolls around. Here’s a great article by GradConnection on how to make an engaging elevator pitch to help you get started.
Should I do any research before a networking event?
Networking starts from the moment you 'step into the event'. Doing some preliminary research will be helpful in preparing your questions – and your answers, once you’ve engaged in a conversation with someone. This will also help you feel more confident, as you’ll be able to engage naturally, as you’ve already thought on the topics.
Prep can take on many forms, depending on the event and information available. For example, you might wish to research the speaker; the topic; or the company hosting it. Sometimes, you might have information on the guest list, or see some buzz on LinkedIn and get an idea of who will be there.
Speaking of LinkedIn, is it OK to connect with someone you met after a networking event?
Absolutely – but with a disclaimer. It's my strong belief that to create a meaningful connection and make a good impression, that you have to pair your requests with a personal note. Explain why you’re connecting and the value their connection on LinkedIn will bring. It doesn’t have to be long – something short, sharp and to the point. You can also do this with connections you haven’t met yet, but as you haven’t had an interaction, you might want to add a bit more to your note. Here’s some examples to get you going.
Biggest networking no-no?
The idea that it’s an opportunity to ask for a job, internship or grad role. While it might help in the path in achieving that, it’s not the point of networking! This is about making long lasting relationships with people, many of which may be in your network and you won’t work with.
Looking to get networking in Term 3? Keep posted across Career Accelerator’s networking opportunities and keep watch of your CA newsletters, which also includes a range of industry events, including some hosted through UNSW Business School affiliated clubs and societies!