A student’s view: Networking your way to success

I’ll never forget how it felt to sit at my first ‘departmental breakfast’ on my placement at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), surrounded by people chatting away but not having a single word to say myself.

I felt like I was trying to get a word in edgeways without even knowing what it was I was planning to say. Almost a year later, I see our Friday breakfasts not only as a way of catching up with my colleagues about what’s going on outside of work, but also as a valuable networking opportunity. And if there’s anything I’ve learned on my placement, it’s that the skills you possess are of utmost importance, but knowing a certain individual could give you the opportunity to showcase those skills to somebody you never would have met otherwise. Networking is a very powerful tool.

I didn’t get my placement through networking. I applied the same way everybody else applied, and was lucky enough to be offered the job. However, there are numerous opportunities I have had that came about through networking: my voluntary work as a hospice ward volunteer and a primary school learning mentor were both opportunities I learned about through my sixth form teacher (the teacher’s positive recommendation probably helped me to secure these placements), and my work experience at a GP surgery was organised through my GP himself. All of this experience undoubtedly played a part in my successful application for my placement.

Since then, I have used networking to secure a position writing a monthly newsletter for all of the placement students working for GSK across the country, and also to end up writing an article for a commercial magazine, called GradMag. Networking at work has also got me a place on a science writing course and other specialist science courses run by my work colleagues.

Networking is also very important if you want to get the most out of your time at university.

Without it, I doubt I would have ever become a course rep – who wants to vote for somebody they’ve never spoken to before? The School of Physical Sciences have recently signed all Forensic Science students up to be part of The Forensic Science Society, providing many opportunities to attend conferences and meet experts in our field – this is an opportunity I will be seizing when I get back from my placement.

The Careers Employability Award has an excellent section on networking, and really made me realise how many people I know who might be able to help me out in the future, even if it is through friends, of friends, of friends! There’s a great activity where you are given a template to map out your ‘networking mind-map’, and I would really encourage everyone to complete this award.

So I’ll finish by giving you my top three networking tips that I’ve learned over the past few years, particularly while I’ve been on placement:

  1. Don’t lose those business cards!
    I’ve got a stack of them in my desk drawer – even though I’ve got all of that information in the address book of my email account, I won’t have my company email address forever, and I don’t want all of my hard networking to go to waste!
  2. Be confident, but not in-your-face confident.
    If you’re too quiet, it will make people feel awkward to be around you and you won’t make the contacts, but get yourself a bad reputation for being loud and boisterous and people won’t be as happy to help you out in the future.
  3. Really listen to people when they’re talking to you.
    Speaking from experience, it’s easy to not listen to what other people are saying because you’re preoccupied trying to think about what you want to say next. But if your reply has nothing to do with what they’ve just said, you’ll come off far worse than you would if you hadn’t planned every word!

Good luck!

– Jay Fullman, 3rd year, Forensic Science with a Year in Industry

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