Students and presenters at the Science, Engineering and Technology recruitment fair 2011Most graduates are aware that networking is important for building a future career, but there is some confusion and fear over what it is and how to do it. Here is our simple guide:

What is networking?

  • Networking is establishing and maintaining connections with a wide range of people who may be able to assist you in building your career. This can either be face to face, by social network or by both. By making contact with people who work in different areas of a business, you can build a network of people who can introduce you to their network of friends and colleagues. This will enable you to build a large network of contacts who will be able to advise and assist in your future career.

Why should I do it?

  • By expanding the number of people you know, you can get a good variety of advice and support from different sources. It can be a way of discovering what a company or industry is like to work for or how to approach an application form and interview. By networking you may find out about an opportunity you are unaware of or start thinking about an area of a business you did not know much about previously.
  • When job hunting, it is important to use all avenues available to you, including networking. It is estimated that 70% of jobs are not advertised, so networking is a good way of tapping into the hidden job market. It also demonstrates that you are a proactive person with good interpersonal skills, something that all graduate recruiters want.

How should I do it?

  • You probably are already networking even if you don’t realise it. It can be as simple as chatting to someone at a party or asking a relative. Identify the contacts you already have and highlight if any of them work in areas of industry that you are interested in. Ask them politely if they can help you; they will probably be flattered and at worst all they can say is no.
  • There are many established networks you can already use. A good way to network is through the University of Birmingham Alumni and Friends, where you can network with recent University of Birmingham graduates who are in a role that you aspire to be in.
  • Attending conferences, courses and other events in the area you are interested are a great way to network. Careers Network has a number of careers fairs and employer presentations open to recent graduates that enable you to meet recruiters. Keep an eye on the events page for upcoming events. Make sure you always bring a good CV or a business card to such events. Joining a professional association will also provide opportunities for networking.
  • Prepare an elevator pitch, which is a 30 second introduction to get a contact's attention when you are networking. It should cover what you currently do, what skills you have and what your aspirations are. Make sure the skills that you describe are relevant to the industry you are interested in and vary the pitch to suit the person and their industry.
  • Research the people that you might want to talk to at a specific event as this will make it easier to think of openers. Think of other questions that might help break the ice such as ‘How do you spend a typical week?’ and ‘What advice would you give me to stand out?’.
  • Don’t come across as too pushy when approaching a contact. Ask for help and advice rather than asking for a job straight away. Remember that good networking is like a good friendship; try to bring something to the network as well as getting something from it.
  • For more information please read our Top networking tips (PDF - 146KB) guide.