Networking for your Career
BA(IS) Alumnus and frequent networker, Grace Davidson, shares her top 4 tips
I think that ‘networking’ is often thought of as being a kind of commercial transaction. I struggled with it initially, believing that it was an act that attempted to ‘gain’ or ‘extract’ something from someone – often for career advancement. If you think like this, I encourage you to challenge your idea of networking to see it more as relationship building and straightforward knowledge sharing. For me, networking helps to fill in the missing blanks in my knowledge and understanding of the world. It is a constantly adapting web of interaction.
Also, I do not consider myself as someone who is ‘naturally’ good at networking. I will be the first to admit that some days my networking abilities are better than others. I share these tips in the hope that you will be able to get the most out of any networking event or moment that you might find yourself in, remembering that networking can as be simple as a conversation that can occur anywhere from a formal networking event, to the person that you happen to sit next to on the train.
Tip #1 – Create an ‘elevator pitch’ for yourself.
As an International Studies student, I was often asked the question ‘what does that mean?’ It is useful to put some definitions around what studying International Studies (or whatever it is that you are studying) means to you specifically. Perhaps you could talk about your enthusiasm for learning new languages or your interest in the economy’s influence on politics. When you answer this question, illustrate some of your personality and have your answer ‘semi prepared.’ It helps clarify what you are studying, but also reveals some of your passions, which you should also name. This makes it easier for the other person to respond as they will have a deeper understanding, as well as an avenue to ask further questions. RMIT’s JobShop runs frequent workshops to help you perfect your elevator pitch.
Tip #2 – Actively seek networking opportunities
Networking doesn’t strictly only occur at networking events. I have met many people through attending public lectures, conferences and workshops. I encourage you to seek out events that interest you. Follow your passions and attend these events (lots are free) and find yourself in a room full of like-minded people. Talk to the person sitting next you – they are attending this event for a reason, find out what it is.
Often, I have only been able to see the value of a conversation I had at an event much later down the track. Frequently, I have met someone new and they perhaps mention an organisation, or name I have heard of in earlier conversations with someone else. Networking broadens your knowledge base and suddenly you find yourself with knowledge you didn’t even realise you had.
Lastly, it is common at events for speakers’ contact details to be projected onto the screen. This would not occur if the speaker does not mind being contacted. Note these details down! This is gold, even if the reason why you might wish to contact them isn’t clear to you just yet.
Tip #3 Use networking as a learning experiment
Networking teaches me about myself. It teaches me what I am interested in and what I am not interested. In such a broad degree, I, like many BA(IS) students, struggled to find some clear direction. Through meeting new people, you can help identify your own interests and recognise where your strengths lie. It advises you of the opportunities that exist and, in some cases, it can act almost as career speed dating.
Networking can be very difficult. You need the confidence to both ignite a conversation, but also to leave a conversation. These conversation skills are necessary for your future careers. I don’t really think that I have the answers to navigating complex human interaction, so instead I’d just suggest using networking as a practice for all of the imminent tricky situations in future.
I think that one of the downsides of the usual understanding of networking is that there is pressure to form a bond with your counterpart and to see what it can bring a member of the party. Yet, like meeting anyone new, you’re not always going to ‘click.’ This can be hard and could even feel personal. Though, the reality is this person owes you nothing and cannot be forced to speak to you, let alone assist you. Say ‘nice to meet you’ and move on.
Rather than forcing your conversation upon someone, it is much more fruitful to try to meet someone who you identify to be as immediately interested in you are you are in them. Then you can set up a reciprocal follow-up and bring benefit to both parties.
Tip #4 Utilise your pre-existing network
You are surrounded by a wealth of knowledge and support in your degree at RMIT. Do not underestimate this. Your lecturers and tutors are genuinely there to support you – please grasp this early. Particularly if you are someone who struggles with speaking to people at events, talk to whichever of the International Studies staff you jive with the most. You know them and know that they are there to support you. Perhaps you don’t have any specific questions or reason to speak to them (and by no means am I encouraging you to waste their time), but opening a discussion with them can be a great avenue for exploring what you are interested in and what you are comfortable and confident in talking about. They can act as a sounding board for you. It is also an opportunity for you to build positive university references for your future career. Once you start having these discussions with people that you know, you may find it easier to attend external events. Recognise that the staff genuinely care about your development and want you to achieve your career goals. This doesn’t mean you need a really strong relationship with every Academic, but it is encouragement to allow yourself to explore more opportunities. I can’t begin to tell you how much these conversations have the potential to enrich your university experience.
Last, but most definitely not least… do not forget your fellow BA(IS) colleagues! Your friends are likely doing amazing things, involved in incredible projects and have their own networks. I discovered many organisations through various conversations within tutes. Though I don’t ascribe to the idea of networking to be about gaining something, there are many opportunities to find internships and become involved with projects that might lead elsewhere via this method. Plus, you get to make friends as you do so!
Networking often carries a pressure to form really strong bonds with the people we meet. This can be such a barrier to some people and the truth is, it doesn’t often happen. I think it helps to de-formalise and de-pressurise our understanding of networking. Think of it as a simple conversation. Expect nothing and be yourself. In identifying your passions and showing some of that in your elevator pitch, you will be able to tell if the other person is interested in continuing the conversation pretty quickly. From there connections and opportunities will flow naturally.
Grace Davidson graduated from the BA (International Studies) in 2018 and is presently employed as Victorian Schools Development Representative with The Salvation Army (Australia). Thanks to Jessica Orchard for her work on a previous version of this article.