As tomorrow is Halloween, we wanted to write a post on an aspect of career planning that could be considered a nightmare. Do you come out in a cold sweat at the thought of talking to someone you don't know? Or worry about how to approach an employer at a careers fair, talk to someone at a conference, get in touch with that friend-of-a-friend who works in PR and who would be a useful contact?
Networking is a word that strikes fear into many of us, myself included. I wanted to share some strategies and resources I've found useful over the past couple of years. The first strategy is regarding LANGUAGE. Whether it should or not, the 'n' word can conjure up images of a super-confident person marching up to a group of six people, introducing themselves and engaging in sparkling and witty conversation. More helpful (and infinitely less scary) phrases might be learning, sharing, communiacting, exhanging ideas, listening and helping others. My guess is you do all of those things on a daily basis. If I come across an interesting article or news item I share it with colleagues who might find it interesting too. Nine times out of ten they respond gratefully, and more often than not they return the favour at some point. Reciprocity is a key principle in effective networking; it's fine to ask a question via a discussion group on LinkedIn, but make sure you have things to contribute too.
The second strategy I've found useful is to ask myself 'What's the worst that can happen?' Usually, the answer is, someone won't respond, and it's most likely to be because they don't have time. I once confidently introduced myself to someone on a stand at a public engagement event, only to reminded that I had had a half-hour long meeting with them the week before. The sky didn't fall down. Mistakes are allowed - rudeness is not.
The third strategy, rather than beating myself for being reluctant to network, is to remind myself of all the potential benfits. Careers networking has lots of these: you can find out more about job roles/companies/sectors you're interested in, raise your profile, and find out about opportunities that may be coming up (though don't start off by asking for a job; ask someone for help and advice in the initial stages). As you build relationships with people, you may find that career opportunities and ideas arise. You can engage in career networking even if you don't have a specific career plan in mind; find things that interest you, and get involved with people who share those interests. You never know where it might lead.
Here are some helpful resources on various aspects of career networking:
University of Warwick Blog post on networking for introverts - lovely advice on being prepared (always a good strategy for reducing fear) and on networking in a way that feels comfortable to you.
The shy connector - great advice from Sacha Chua on encouarging people to approach you rather than you approaching them.
The Careers Service Finding a Graduate Job Guide - contains lots of advice on online, written and face-toface career networking.
And specifically for academic networking: check out the Researcher Development Unit's Skills Guides
Finally, if you want to practice on some lovely, non-scary people, the Careers Service will have a 'Careers Nightmare' stand outside the Library tomorrow between 12-3pm. Come and ask the careers questions you've always wanted to. I'm reliably informed there will be treats.