Having a network of professional contacts not only improves your chances of finding and securing your first job, it can help you in every step of your career. Alex Reid investigates how you can start building a network from the moment you graduate
Employers love recruiting people they already know before the application process. It cuts on recruitment fees and offers some assurance that the person they employ will succeed in the job. According to Lorraine Whittick, an employment expert who works with UK-based recruitment consultancy May & Stephens, theres never been a more crucial time to be part of a network. "Because of the current economic climate, lots of companies are not advertising their jobs widely, she explains. "Companies are refusing to pay recruitment fees, theyre refusing to pay advertising fees, theyre relying on their network to recruit people. If you can tap into that network somehow, youre going to have more chance of success. Youre going to get there first. Building a network is more important than it has ever been its the best way of finding work.
While having a network of professional contacts may seem like something you can only achieve after years of career experience creating industry contacts, its actually possible to build a network before youve even entered the world of work. There are a number of ways you can maximise contacts you currently have, build new relationships and improve your career opportunities.
If youre at university or have recently graduated, begin by making use of your fellow students and previous graduates of your institution (your alumni network). Universities have alumni associations that offer you an often Europe-wide network which you can immediately tap into. An alumni association forms a ready-made network of people who can offer you career advice, support and provide professional contacts within different industries. Its particularly helpful as many graduates from your own university, particularly those who are working in a new country, will once have been in the situation you are in and are uniquely placed to offer the best advice.
Look to your university and discover which countries it has official alumni groups in. Imperial College London, for example, has alumni groups in over 180 countries worldwide including almost all European countries and an active alumni network of over 120,000 graduates. These alumni networks provide opportunities for graduates to contact each other or meet face-to-face at events. This is particularly useful if youre moving to a new country where your contacts are limited. Recent graduates can become useful future contacts and people with which to discuss current opportunities youre exploring. Experienced graduates can offer advice on gaining career experience and work placements, if not directly then through other people they know in industry.
Websites such as Linked In (www.linkedin.com) and Xing (www.xing.com) are often considered networking tools for experienced professionals but they are also useful for new graduates. The first step is to create your own profile, remembering to include any and all work experience youve gained and referencing achievements both inside and outside education. Be specific. If you dont have a lot of career experience, a graduate profile can appear quite bare, so giving details of specific successes you have had will help your profile stand out from the crowd.
Facebook (www.facebook.com) can also be a powerful career aid. Its by far the most popular networking site across Europe and can, given the social nature of the site, provide a more relaxed way to introduce yourself to a market. Most major companies, from BP to Siemens to PricewaterhouseCoopers, have their own Facebook groups. Once youve identified the career area youre interested in and found out who the major companies in the field are, joining a Facebook group is a great way to research an organisation and connect with people already working there.
Finally, search online for the leading industry bodies in your particular career area. This is especially important if youre moving to a new country. From accounting to engineering whatever your career path, discover who the top professional bodies or companies are and visit their websites. Many have graduate forums and message boards that can help you find out more about the company, ask questions and connect with people already there. Organisations may also have information on trade fairs, or run their own graduate events as a way of sourcing potential employees. These are great networking opportunities.
If youre attending an industry event, a recruitment fair or an alumni meeting, preparation is key to networking successfully. "Before you go, plan your visit, advises Lorraine Whittick. "Find out which people or exhibitors are going to be most valuable to you. If its a networking event, find out whos going to be there in advance. Once youve done that, prepare a very short pitch explaining who you are, what opportunities youre looking for and why you think youre suited to the industry.
The key once youve decided what you want to say is to rehearse this so that you have it practised perfectly by the time you attend. Appearing confident and showing you know what you want will ensure recruiters and potential future contacts remember you. Have business cards ready and take some copies of your CV too, just in case someone asks for one. "Too many people turn up to these events aimlessly, expecting people to call them back when they havent been clear about what they want, says Whittick. "You have to try and leave a memorable impression.
Spreading the word
A final source of networking opportunities worth considering is your family and friends. This includes anyone you may have worked or studied with, and friends of your family as well as your relatives themselves. "Start asking people if they know anyone thats in your industry, advises Whittick. "Although family and friends might not be in your industry themselves, they might know people who can offer some advice. This is how you grow your network.
Central to successful networking is being active in your pursuit of connections. That means not stopping with the first contact you make. Ask people if they know anyone who can help you further. Just knowing the right name can offer an "in. If you call or email someone looking for career openings and give the name of a mutual acquaintance who said you should get in touch people are much less likely to dismiss your enquiry than a request from someone they have no connection with. Even if that person cannot help, they can often give you the details of someone they know who can. You will find that the more your network increases, the more career opportunities you gain. And with increased experience and job opportunities, comes a broader network. As well as aiding you now at the beginning of your career, a strong network is something that will help you throughout your career journey.
Advice for graduates
Brave New Talent
Also explore your universitys alumni website.
About the author
Alex Reid has written features on education and graduate career progression for Postgraduate UK magazine and the Hotcourses University and College Guide. He has edited the British Councils Club UK magazine and contributed to the student advice magazine Fresh Direction.
Did you know?
87 per cent of jobseekers said they would ask for information about a potential employer if someone in their network already works for them (Intelligence Group)
According to UK research, almost a quarter of employers routinely use networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn as part of their recruitment processes (Harvey Nash)LinkedIn has more than 55 million members in over 200 countries around the world. Facebook has 350 million users including more than 700,000 local businesses which have active pages on Facebook