A great deal is talked about networking in the Careers and Employability realm but what does it actually mean? I often mention networking in sessions with students and they say ‘oh yes I use social media’. Is this what networking actually is?
Of course you can network using social media – we talk about that a lot, and there are brilliant examples of how to successfully network and some where it’s all gone horribly wrong! We have had many employers visiting the campus to speak to us about the importance of social media and how to use it well. However we, at the Careers and Employability Service, have been helping more and more students with telephone and Skype mock interviews lately. Why? Yes of course it is used as a method for employers to shortlist that helps to save resources and also helps to interview potential employees who come from all over the world. But I also wonder if it’s a way of employers finding out how potential graduates cope with an actual conversation let alone how they verbally articulate their experiences in a coherent and succinct manner.
How many opportunities must we have missed in our lives because we rely too much on networking through our phones or internet? Recently I found myself using my phone when I was out with a group of friends and looked up and they were all on their phones too. I’m sure this has happened to most of us! And I’ve lost count at how many times I’ve sat at the dinner table with family members when they have been distracted by their phone alerts.
I had to laugh when I saw the Banksy painting; ‘Mobile Lovers’ as I recently sat in a restaurant with family and we were amused by a couple nearby who looked like they were supposed to be having a romantic meal for two when in fact they were not only both on their phones for the majority of their meal but the man’s screen facing us showed the unmistakable ‘Candy Crush Saga’!!
So however great our abilities are to keep in touch with others using all forms of media, I read an article recently on LinkedIn which said ‘networking’ professionally has become a scary word – something that sounds far too business-like or something that you do only if you want something from someone. This not only adds pressure to the person seeking support but also scares off anyone who is being ‘networked’.
They will see it as a potential time-consuming drain of energy with little return. Instead it’s recommended that you see it as an opportunity to ‘make friends’. This method of networking also rings true when you speak to people about their jobs and how they got into them; we lose track of how many people mention that they knew someone or made contact with a friend who had contacts, or offered themselves for a shadowing experience, or visited the department which meant they made ‘friends’ with staff…and the list goes on!
‘But I don’t know anyone in the industry I want to work in, and I’d prefer to make contact using other methods before I actually meet the person’ I hear you say.
What about trying the new online mentoring system KEW-NET? This is where University of Kent staff, alumni and professionals can sign up to mentor students. The mentor can dip in and out depending on how busy their schedule is and only offer a level of support they feel they are able to provide. This way it is good because you know you are only contacting those professionals who have actually signed up to volunteer to be a mentor.
You could get your CV checked, make contact with someone actually working in the area you want to get into, find out their ‘story’, have an insight day or even get yourself some work experience!
So networking by social media – of course this is good, if it’s done well! But take a multi-channel approach and do it alongside networking in real-time too!
Be nosy, listen on the bus, ask around, talk to family and friends, phone people, visit employers, departments, ask your lecturers, attend employer events on campus, speak to the Careers and Employability Service, have real conversations and keep going until you get some good contacts to follow up, you never know you might develop some skills that might help you when you start that job.
In the end, however good you are at using social media for networking, you will get to a point – hopefully – where you will need to actually speak to someone, probably face to face…….. but maybe on the phone or via Skype first…….