1. Do your research: which companies will be at the event, what are their recruitment processes and key dates, what are they looking for in graduates? Don’t ask ‘dumb’ questions that are clearly addressed on their websites! Know the name of the CEO and any major recent activity the company is involved with.
2. Be people focused: Be curious about the person you are speaking with and don’t be afraid to ask them about their role and career story, make a note of their name, collect their business card and jot down on the back when and where you met them, develop your listening skills. Use their name when talking to them (‘It’s been a pleasure meeting you, James’). If appropriate, compliment them on their presentation or website or some aspect of their work that you have observed.
3. Watch your body language: Great posture, open gestures, smiling, nodding, appropriate eye contact, firm handshake, confident presentation and learn to chat with ease if it doesn’t come naturally to you. Know how and when to break into a group or to move from one conversation or group to the next without offending. Don’t dominate a contact. Manage food and drink and dress appropriately for the event. Keep your bags to a minimum so you can have your right hand ready to accept or initiate a handshake. Be welcoming of other people and make some new friends among the audience – they are also part of your network.
4. Prepare: Develop a two sentence opening about yourself, it has to be concise and interesting. ‘Hello, I’m Tanya. I’m in my penultimate year of XXX degree at the University of Sydney and my focus is on sustainable solutions in the power industry. I’d love to talk with you about the XXX projects your organisation is involved with in this area’. ‘Hi, I’m Roger and I’ve just started my studies in XXX at the University of Sydney. My area of interest is in forensic accounting and I think my strengths are in compliance and analysis. I’m keen to hear more about the business line in your organisation that deals with this area of work.’
5. Be open to possibilities: while you may be clear about your objectives for each event and have a list of possible questions to ask or comments you would like to make, be open to hearing about options you may not have considered previously. You may receive an idea for a career direction that you have overlooked, you may get a referral to talk to someone else through your contact’s channels, you may hear about a position available that you wouldn’t have otherwise noticed.
6. Be realistic: make your networking objectives achievable – ask for information, not a job!
7. Take a friend: BUT have an agreement you won’t stick together through the whole event so that you both have the opportunity to talk to contacts.
8. Develop confidence: easier said than done, so pretend that networking is your job and you are being paid very well to do it. Don’t let you or others down by being a wall flower. Recruiters are keen to meet you, don’t be apologetic about taking up their time. Your confidence will grow as you learn to network with integrity; this means that you will find a way that fits well with your character and personality. If you are an introvert, you will probably prefer smaller groups where you can have a more structured conversation that is about building a professional relationships and you may need frequent ‘time out’ zones to reflect on what you have learnt. You really do have to ‘work the room’. Extraverts may find networking less draining and in fact will be energised by the interaction – lots of noise and people is fun and it won’t feel like work at all. You will need to develop a system to consolidate the information you have gained and keep track of contacts you’ve made.
9. Reciprocity: networking is best when it is a mutually beneficial activity. Find common ground and share information and ideas, follow up with a link to a great website, research article or conference that is relevant to the discussion you had.
10. Follow up: send a thank you email or card, connect on LinkedIN, let your contact know what happens if they have given you specific advice (everyone loves a happy ending), and make sure your resume is fabulous and current if your contact asks for a copy.