How to network

Ever heard the saying your network is your net worth? Well, it’s totally true. Being able to connect with anyone and everyone you meet will help you get your foot in the door. Especially in competitive industries. From there you could go on to make loads of money and be super successful. But how are you supposed to know how to network? By reading our top networking tips, that’s how!

A group of young people are networking. This is a full-body image.

What is networking?

Networking is about forming relationships with people who can benefit your working life. You should constantly be on the lookout for well-known people, or even someone who’s twice removed from them, in your potential industry. Remember, a good contact is anyone who you can make a valuable connection with to help you move forward in a career you’re interested in.

What’s the point of networking and making contacts?

Only around 40% of jobs are advertised. The other 60% are mostly filled by word of mouth or through people’s contacts. “Traditionally, networking has been used in arts and media-type organisations. But that isn’t really the case anymore. Now it’s used across the board in all sectors,” says Catherine Reynolds, a careers advisor at the University of Sussex. “With the current state of the job sector, employers are way more willing to recruit people they already know.”

If the idea of talking to someone just to ‘get something’ from them sounds a bit sneaky, there’s a loophole. Try to look at networking as a two-way process. You offer your skills and abilities in return for support and information. We promise, this isn’t something underhanded. All successful networkers build relationships which can be mutually beneficial. Plus, getting to meet new people can be fun, if you work in similar industries you might find you have shared interests and end up genuinely becoming mates. From there, you’ll end up feeling good about meeting new people and building relationships.

How do you find contacts?

One of the most important networking tips is to find the right contacts. To clarify, anyone you meet in work situations like a job interview, careers event, or on work experience is a potential contact. 

But you don’t have to go for the big guns straight away. In fact, youth coach Susie Page suggests starting with friends and family. “Start small – ask one person if they know someone you can talk to or somewhere you could look.”

Another tip is to identify existing networks. Look online for industry conferences, professional networking events and forums, join business networking sites, set up a LinkedIn profile, or search for relevant groups on social media sites like Facebook. It doesn’t really matter where you start networking. As long as you’re gradually building a network, that’s all that counts.

Face-to-face networking tips

When you’ve tracked down someone you’d like to contact, the best way to make a lasting impression is to meet them in person. This doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Usually asking them for coffee (and paying) will suffice. In the meantime, try to do a bit of background digging before you meet:

  • What does their company do and which bits of it are you most interested in?
  • How did they get to where they are today?
  • What are their interests and background?

You should also have a clear idea of how you want to introduce yourself, what you’d like to find out and why. People are often flattered to be asked about their areas of expertise.

What to say to create your network

We’re well aware that networking with lots of people can be scary, but try to relax and be friendly yet assertive. Let your enthusiasm for the career shine through and most people will be happy to give advice and help.

Ask lots of open-ended questions beginning with words like what, why, how or when. According to Susie, sharing a few things about yourself is also important. “Give something personal about yourself that’ll help break the ice, or something important to the way you work. Once you’ve given them a bit of your story you’ll find it much easier to have a productive conversation,” she says.

If you’re really struggling with what to say, a classic networking tip is to have a personal elevator pitch sketched out in your mind. Essentially, this is a few short sentences about you and what you’re into which you can recite to sell yourself quickly and effectively, without dominating the conversation. Remember, people love talking about themselves. So you’ll need to give them plenty of opportunity to do just that.

Even if you’re just starting out, showing that you’re game is always appreciated. You could offer to help out with a busy project they’re involved in, or suggest a contact that might help their business out.

Networking tips for ending a conversion

If it’s time to bail or the chat’s wearing thin, try to end on a positive note. That way you can stay in touch. Use open-ended questions, such as:

  • “How can we stay in touch to continue this conversation?”
  • “What information could you give me so I can go away and think about this?”
  • “What do I need to do to be considered for some work experience?”

Following up on networking

Unfortunately for you, learning how to network doesn’t stop after the meeting. You’ll need to keep your connections alive if you plan to use them in future. Always thank a contact and stay in touch afterwards to update them on your progress. “It’s showing them that the time they gave you has paid off in the long term,” says Catherine. To help with this, keep a list of everyone you’ve spoken to, their business cards, contact details and their job title. That way you won’t be frantically trying to remember whether you spoke to Zara or Zarah.

What if a contact isn’t helpful?

How to network when they don’t seem interested? Try not to take it too personally. Everyone gets knocked back at some point or another. The contact you speak to may be pushed for time, tense about their job, or just having a bad day. Simply thank them for their time, and ask if they could recommend anyone else who could help. And whatever you do, always remember to be polite – you never know who you may bump into in the future.

Next Steps

By Louise Ridley

Updated on 05-Jun-2022