How to nail networking
Many of us shy away from face-to-face networking. Join Oxford university careers adviser Jonathan Black to find out how to create new contacts and bolster your job prospects. And discover what it's like to experience a bustling networking event or to get dropped into a one-to-one with the FT's editorial director Robert Shrimsley
Directed, produced, filmed and edited by Joe Sinclair. Co-produced by Janina Conboye. Filmed by Petros Gioumpasis. Edited by Richard Topping
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So meeting other people who may be able to help you with advice or just, maybe, a job can be really helpful, as well as a bit frightening, to begin with. But instead of using the word "networking," let's think about this as information interviewing. So you're having a chat with somebody who can probably help you. And you can gain information about what it's really like to work in that organisation. And it might be in a crowded room, at a conference, in a cafe, or a short meeting in that office, ideally.
So this video will show you how to do information interviewing, how to start, and what the point of doing it is, and how to do it easily. We filmed our students here as they met for the first time to see how they got on.
Sorry, I'm Dan.
Hi, Dan. Nithya, nice to meet you.
What do you do, sorry?
I'm at the moment, working as a lecturer.
Oh, really? Oh, wow. OK, cool. And what in?
And you are?
Yeah. I'm a student at the Royal Holloway. I'm just doing my third year in economics.
How about you? What do you do?
PhD student, first year.
Oh, my gosh. I'm actually considering applying for one. How are you finding it?
And what about you?
I'm finishing off my executive MBA at Cass Business School.
I was just mentioning it to Bradley, isn't it?
So instead of thinking about these as networking, we're going to talk about information interviews. Ideally, it's 10 to 15-minute conversation with somebody where you are genuinely trying to find out what their industry is like. Two real questions, what's it like to work there? And what do you need to be able to succeed and to work there?
This is not an academic exercise. You are genuinely interested in what they can teach you and they can tell you about it. Yeah, I think there are about six benefits. Number one, there's low pressure on you. Because it's not a job interview. So you can - well, to be honest, you can mess it up. And it doesn't matter.
The second thing, you've raised the point, you're going to learn about the industry. So you're building an insight into the organisation. You polish your presentation. The first time you do it, it'll be a bit ropey. And then, after a while, they say, so, tell me about yourself. And you'll just have it nailed. Two sentences, this is me, and this is what I'm looking for.
There's a more implicit thing, which is, you stay in control. You're in control of your career planning. And that message comes out loud and clear to the people you're meeting. You're not just applying for jobs online, and sitting back, and waiting. You are actually someone who seizes control says, I want to meet this company, and this company, and this company. I'm going out and doing it, a proactive, positive person we really like.
You've mentioned, your tapping into the hidden job market. Or it might be that they really create the job on that basis. The other thing is it may be a hidden job that comes up in a week's time. And the chance that you go to see them exactly at the moment they're looking for the job is very small.
But within a month, something probably does come up, or maybe two months later. And they think, who was it? Who was that person who came to see us? They were really good. Dig up the CV. OK, let's see, what are you doing now? Oh, actually, I've got a job. OK, and I'm available.
The sixth thing is you start to build your network, which you're going to need when you start to work in that industry, and you're going to need as you keep going into the future, and to keep this alive. So, I think, six great reasons, implicitly, makes you feel better because of being in control, to polishing up your approach. And you might uncover a job, as well.
An information interview is one thing. A room full of strangers is quite another. We're here at this networking event to get some top tips.
Sorry to interrupt, I'm a journalist from the FT. And we're doing a tutorial on networking, a video. I was wondering if perhaps one or two of you might like to give your top tip for networking, how to break the ice when you're in a room full of people?
My only tip would be to make eye contact.
It's really important you bring your personality out, as well, and don't see the occasion as too formal.
The last time I met a really nice lady, on the last FT event. And we recently met in a toilet doing our makeup. So I think you can really meet people anywhere.
It's a stupid one, but really important, is be interested in people. So I think, actually, it's a two-way dialogue. And so importance of networking is trying to make different connections.
Hello, sorry to interrupt.
Yeah, I would say not be afraid to go up and speak to people. If we're somewhere like this, and there's somebody standing on their own, then it's worth us trying to incorporate them into the group. Because there's nothing worse than being somewhere like this, and knowing no one, and not feeling included.
So once you have your contacts, and you collect all the business cards, and you're ready to network, make sure that you follow up the next day, or within a week, so that people know where you are, who you are. Set up another meeting.
If you come across a good article or something that you can share, just keep them in mind. Let them know, I thought of you, here's an article. So it's kind of continuing to have those touch points.
I think events like these are fantastic. Because we're all here for a common purpose. So you automatically have something to talk to someone about, either, are they going to enjoy the speaker? Did they enjoy the last speaker? And I think a group of women coming together where we can learn from each other, it's just an amazing opportunity.
My top tip on networking is to get personal and just meet people and find common interests. And I find that the best business connections happen naturally.
So you've decided which industry sectors you're interested in. I think the next thing to do is to contact people. Where do you get your contacts? You may have them already, you will have some through your alumni networks at university, through your friends, through your parents of your friends, and the friends of your parents, and everybody else you know. At this stage, you can get fairly ruthless about looking for people who can help you.
Approach them, probably, with a very short email. And then the sort of letter would be, "dear Professor X, I'm a student at so-and-so university studying whatever. And I'm exploring my options for what to do next."
So you're not needy. You're not looking for a job right now. You are genuinely exploring your options. "I'm very interested in this industry or this company. I've already worked on projects in this area. Would you be willing to spare 10 minutes of your time for an information interview? Naturally, I'd come to your office. And I'll give you a call in a couple of days to see if we can find a time that's mutually acceptable."
Now, who wouldn't be flattered by wanting to give you advice? You've got the interview set up. You may have two or three of them set up in an afternoon. Be on time. Stick to time. You introduce yourself. You thank them in advance for giving you the time.
Make sure you know when they've got to go. And then ask your questions about the industry, how you want to enter the industry, what employers look for when they go in. And the critical thing is, at the end of the meeting, before it finishes, make sure you ask for two more contacts.
"So, Professor Smith, this has been extremely helpful. I've understood much more about the programme here, or the industry, or what have you. Are there a couple more people you could suggest I get in touch with?" And make sure that you keep all the work. You offer to write to them. Don't expect the other person to have to do the work.
So what you'll do is say, if you could just give me their email address, or contact details, I will do it. And then when you write to this person, it'll be: "Dear Doctor Y, Professor X has suggested I get in touch." They're much more likely to open the email if they've got someone they know in the email address, in the subject line, than if it's from you, who they've never heard of.
Pretty quickly, you'll be meeting these people and building up a network. I did meet a student once who said, oh, yes, I've tried that trick. And I went to see three people in - I think it was insurance. And I decided I didn't like that industry.
So I said, yeah, well, that was perfect then. You didn't spend three years in the job. You spent three meetings. And that was that. So it can be really valuable in that direction, as well.
At which point, we get to the difficult bit, which is, on a wet Wednesday afternoon...
...and it's dark, and your meeting this complete stranger in a business that you've never been to, all of us think, oh, really? I'd rather go home. So persist. And you'll really stand out. Because most people don't do this.
What can I do for you? How can I help?
Thank you very much for your time. I much appreciate it.
It's a pleasure.
So at the moment, I'm looking at developing a career in journalism.
'Cause you actually studied journalism, didn't you?
I did, yes.
And then you went off on a different route.
I did. I did, yes. I'm just trying to get a bit more insight. It's something that I found to be quite a competitive industry. So what steps do you think well enable someone to stand out when they're applying for a job in journalism?
What do we look for? We look for a proven commitment to journalism. Because there are so many people interested. And so many people who think it could be a fun career, which it is.
How are you?
I'm good. So how can I help you? What can I do for you?
So I'm just interested to learn a bit more about what you do here and your career in general. Can you just tell me a bit about how you got here?
How did I get here?
I always knew I wanted to be a journalist. It was my ambition from when I was at school. And I got my first job after university by writing to something like 100 different news organisations, and being rejected by most of them, and kept writing.
Would it be OK to receive contact details from you and, potentially, two other contacts, as well, just so I can get more insight?
I'm happy to send you my details. I'm not sure who I should... I'm a bit nervous about inflicting people on other people who don't know them. Everybody has their own way of working. But I'm happy for you to keep in touch with me.
Thank you very much.
OK, good luck.
So information interviewing is a great way to diffuse networking. And it gives purpose to it. And it helps people overcome the fear of, what do I do when I have to network with people? It's an important skill to learn, whether it's part of your job, or you're actually looking for a new job. Few people are really good at it straight away. But with practice, you can overcome that fear and meet some fascinating people and learn about a great new job.