Networking? Can eat one ah? I’m just an undergrad leh.
As an undergraduate, you’re someone who’s (probably) on the last leg of their academic journey before the real world comes closing in. Essentially, that means #adulting – that means securing a job, getting started on your professional career, making money and pretty much ensuring that you don’t end up starving on a Wednesday.
Snagging that dream job is not easy, unless you’re a lucky duck with strong connections and contacts in the industry you’re eyeing. It could be a relative or a friend that will help you get one foot through the door. But if you don’t…
That’s where networking comes in.
Think of it as expanding your social circle and making friends – but instead of having friends you can hang out late at night at Swee Choon with, you’re seeking professional contacts. People who are by all accounts ahead of you in terms of experience and age. You might think you don’t need these people now, but your success as a professional inevitably rides on the impression you make on others. That doesn’t just mean being a nice, funny person!
Networking is but the first step to building your path to that dream career. (You cannot don’t friend anyone lah, basically.)
The key thing here is to realise now that networking doesn’t start only after you graduate and toss your hat up in the air. It starts right now, both within your classroom and beyond it.
Here’s a brief introduction to the world of networking. There are several things you need to keep in mind…
1. NETWORKING OPPORTUNITIES ARE ALL AROUND YOU.
There are online AND offline resources you can utilise freely to advance your networking goals.
Online opportunities include maintaining a presence on LinkedIn as well as other social media platforms. Bear in mind that you must keep your profiles professional – and for the case of LinkedIn, your professional information and career history must be kept up to date. Even if you don’t get to meet people physically, an online presence can reach further than your two legs will ever bring you. Platforms like Twitter and Facebook are great arenas for starting and joining conversations. Be proactive. And when you meet people, be genuine!
Offline opportunities for networking centre around school and networking events (Eventbrite serves up great events you can RSVP for!). Keep an ear to the ground, especially through student affairs or any contacts you already have. Your university might even straight up sponsor these events, including guest lectures and workshops.
You should also consider reaching out to your professors, seniors, and faculty members (and communicating often!). Participate actively in class (unless you somehow know how to make a good impression while falling asleep during a lecture) and interact enthusiastically with your peers and teachers. It may not seem like much now, but adopt a more long-term mindset: when the time comes and you’re beginning your job hunt, you’d be surprised how helpful your professors might be!
2. BE WELL-EQUIPPED BEFORE YOU LEAP IN.
You won’t get much done if you only bring yourself to a networking event!
At an industry event, chances are you’ll probably bump into leaders and veterans. These are the big boys (or girls) you’ll definitely want to impress and make a lasting connection with. And we don’t mean in the romantic, fairy-tale way.
This basically means having business cards on hand. A general rule of thumb: only offer your business card if someone asks for it, instead of shoving a card down every pocket you can reach for. Another hint for you – consider it an EXTREMELY good thing if someone offers you THEIR card without you asking for it. You probably made a good impression.
Some people might bring along copies of their CVs to networking events as well. They’re not as tiny as business cards, but if the right opportunity comes knocking, you’ll want to be prepared for it. It’s better to be over prepared than underprepared.
Which leads us to the last thing you should come equipped with: KNOWLEDGE. Conduct your research and be diligent about it, especially if you’re about to attend the talk of someone prominent in the industry. It’s good to be able to talk about yourself confidently in hopes that someone will one day offer you a job, but it’s just as handy to be able to have a set of intelligent, thoughtful questions on hand. As much as people love to hear about you, they love talking about themselves, too. Showing a genuine interest in their work will go a long way for you!
3. REMEMBER THESE CRUCIAL TIPS AS YOU NETWORK.
First of all, STAY CALM. Anxiety can sometimes be motivating, but you can’t risk letting your nerves get the better of you. When emotions run high, your brain shuts down – and you don’t want to look like a bumbling mess in front of a potential employer/industry contact.
In the same vein, staying calm will help you to retain your manners. Always be polite, never too hasty, and remember to keep that frown upside down! A smile could mean the difference between an easy conversation and one full of tension.
Finally, remember to have a concise and effective 30-second self-introduction on hand. Can you imagine having a wonderful, insightful conversation and eventually ending it off with a very confused, “And who are you?” from the person you’re speaking to? Sibei jialat. Save yourself, love yourself, and don’t forget this!
Networking may seem daunting to first-timers, especially since we’re expected to speak and present ourselves professionally in order to make a good impression. The reality is that you’ll never get far except when you get a little help every now and then, so pull up your work socks and get cracking! Rome, after all, wasn’t built in a day.
Here’s a list of networking groups to approach if you’re a newbie looking for a good place to start. As mentioned before, online portals like Eventbrite and EventNook are great for seeking out a specific event. What are you waiting for?!