Even in a world of highly structured recruitment processes, personal contacts matter. Networking can help you identify and secure a job, develop your career in the direction you want or, when you are in the early stages of working out what you want to do, simply find out more about a specific role or organisation. It is a job search technique that relies on your willingness to be proactive and open to exploring opportunities. It’s a vital complement to more conventional methods such as applying directly for advertised positions. When done well it can be both enjoyable and effective, opening up new horizons and creating access to opportunities that are not advertised, that you perhaps hadn’t previously thought of or considered.
Networking is often associated with rather negative images of attending events with the aim of collecting mountains of business cards or spending hours adding as many connections on LinkedIn as possible. We certainly see people approach things in this way but would recommend a rather more constructive approach focused on relationship-building and the straightforward recognition that occasionally we need a bit of help and there are people out there happy to offer it.
Networking allows you to make contact and build relationships with people who might be able to help you, and who you, perhaps at a later point in your career, might be able to help in return. It may indeed be enough for those you are contacting to have the satisfaction of helping someone at the start of their career. Seen this way, we can acknowledge networking as a structured social interaction rather than an activity that involves somehow “using” people to further your own ambitions.
You will find opportunities to network both in person and online. In practice the two are often combined, with an online approach leading to an in-person meeting or an in-person meeting leading to further discussions online – or even by phone.
Tips for networking
If you haven’t networked before the idea can feel a bit daunting, but there’s plenty you can do to prepare yourself before you attend events or have a planned conversation. And remember, some of it’s quite simply about the basics; being polite and courteous, showing interest in others, being straightforward and clear in your communications with them.
- Think in advance what you want to obtain from a meeting. For example, is it insight into a job? Is it information on how an individual’s career path developed? Do you want to find out which organisations in a sector are hiring right now or about to expand?
- Have some straightforward questions prepared in advance to get the conversation started. Examples could be “Would you mind telling me about how got your job?”, “What do you enjoy about it?” or “What advice would you give someone at my stage of career?”
- After you’ve met someone make sure you follow up. This can be as simple as sending a polite thank you for their time and help, or, if it was a very short conversation at a networking event, a request to have a further conversation. In fact, if you have the opportunity, it can be a good idea to confirm with someone that they would be happy for you to get in touch at a later point.
- Make a note of who you speak to and what you discussed. It makes a great impression when you can refer back to the content of the discussion at a later stage.
- If you are taking part in a discussion make sure you don’t monopolise the conversation. Allow other people to talk and pay attention to their answers too! Effective networking is also about effective listening!
There are a variety of ways to network during your time at LSE and beyond.
Often organised at a departmental level, they offer the chance to chat informally with alumni of an individual programme or department who are keen to share their experiences with you. Numbers vary but will often consist of around 15 to 20 alumni and 50 to 70 students. These events offer a great way of meeting a range of alumni who are predisposed to help, will be happy to answer your questions and help you in your personal career thinking.
LinkedIn is an incredible source of potential contacts and works especially well as a research tool through which you can identify and reach each out to alumni and other professionals working in areas of interest to you.
Not all interesting contacts are made as a result of strategically planned meetings, so be ready to make the most of all opportunities. Chatting to people during a public event, at a party, or even during a flight can lead to really insightful and helpful conversations. If you show interest, most people will be happy to talk about themselves, so don’t feel afraid to encourage them to share their experiences with you. You might just learn something useful, but you might also find that this is the first step towards a further meeting, an offer of work experience or a more formal discussion about job openings.
This means of course that you need to be ready at all times to mention briefly something about yourself – to be able to summarise succinctly who you are, what you’re doing, what you’re hoping to do next – and, perhaps, what sort of help you need.
LSE’s global network of alumni groups based throughout the world arrange regular social event which offer an excellent way of building contacts.
Our special interest groups can be another helpful way of meeting people who share similar interests. Some also run networking events and invite speakers to talk to members.
This is a planned, structured conversation where you will chat with a professional about their job, their organisation and their career and ask them for recommendations on possible next steps. It is a great way of getting realistic, up-to-date career information and of making contact with people who might be able to offer concrete help with career exploration and, potentially, help you uncover job opportunities.
When you have identified someone you would like to talk to in more detail, get in touch, be straightforward, explain that you are hoping for their help, that you would be very interested in finding out more about their career, their job, their experiences, and would welcome the chance to chat in more detail with them. Make clear that you are hoping for information and to get the benefit of their insights – you are not at this stage looking for a job. Emphasise that you will be happy with whatever works for them – a chat over the phone, online, a face to face meeting. Not everyone will respond positively, but many will be keen to do what they can to support you.
Make sure you think carefully about specific things you would like to learn. See below for some questions to help you get started.
Questions you could ask include:
could you tell me how you got your job?
what was the most useful think you did when job hunting?
what one thing do you wish you’d known before you started?
what does a typical day look like?
what do you like and dislike?
how do you see your career developing?
what advice would you give someone in my position?
It’s always a good idea to end the conversation by asking if your interviewee would be able to put you in touch with anyone else who can help, if they know of anyone who might be recruiting at present, what specific steps they’d recommend you take next.
Follow up with a note thanking them for their time, perhaps commenting on something particularly useful that they shared. Mention that you’ll let them know how things go in the future; this allows you to keep in touch and keep the conversation open. You can then share the result of any recommendations you followed, reach out when you come across something you know will be of interest to them and let them know what you finally decide to do.
Networking by its very nature involves meeting people you don’t know. In most cases this is perfectly safe, but it is sensible to take precautions. When meeting people face-to-face, choosing a public setting and letting a friend know where the meeting is taking place and for how long can be a sensible approach.
LinkedIn provides guidance and resources on how to deal with safety and harassment issues that may occur on the site. This information can be found by typing in “safety” in the “help” function.
The Suzy Lamplugh Trust has some excellent resources on personal safety across all areas of life.