Networking skills for students: How to build professional career relationships

Tips and tools to develop your personal brand and overcome your discomfort at networking.

Earlier this month, Dr Franz Wohlgezogen, Senior Lecturer in Management and Marketing, and Ms Anthea McCombe, People & Culture Business Partner, Grant Thornton Australia, hosted a Personal Effectiveness Program (PEP) Workshop for Melbourne Business School and Bachelor of Commerce students on how to get the most out of networking. Here are some of the top tips that were shared.

Step 1: PREPARE

Find your personal brand

Your brand should reflect your skills, strengths, uniqueness, qualities and passions. To describe your personal brand, answer the following questions:

  • My core/emerging expertise is
  • My target audience is/will be
  • I am a champion at
  • I am different and unique because
  • I add value to my audience because
  • The values I demonstrate are

In order to find out the answers to the above, follow these steps:

  1. Ask for feedback to determine your development needs or weaknesses
    It doesn't matter what context this is in; you are accountable for your own journey and career, so seek feedback continually
  2. Spend more time with yourself
    We live busy lives, so we rarely spend time to sit back and look at what we are good at, and how we want to be perceived
  3. What is the value people associate with you?
    If your name came up in conversation, what it is the one word that people will associate with you?
    Is it the same across family, friends, classmates and colleagues? If not, where are the discrepancies?

McCombe stressed the importance of asking for feedback and being receptive to their responses. “Asking your family for feedback is just as important as asking your professional contacts. Be open-minded; if you are defensive and not taking on what people are saying, you won't get a holistic picture”

feedback
Keep conversations open and appproach friends, classmates, colleagues and family to ask them what values they associate with you.

Step 2: CONNECT

If you don’t already, the next step is to set up your LinkedIn profile. This is your brand’s digital presence.

Here’s how to develop a professional, yet compelling profile:

  • Use a professional-looking photo
  • Create an clear and conscise headline
  • Add a summary – keep this to 5 lines (see Richard Branson and Bill Gates’ profiles for great examples)
  • Update your education, work history and skills
  • Add connections: people you meet during your professional life
  • Join groups and share relevant article and insights with your audience

Next, step away from digital and think about conversation. Develop your 30-second elevator pitch. Remember to use keywords and buzzwords that are recognised in industry, and use normal language: sound like a person, not a resume:

  • Who are you?
  • What’s going on in your professional life right now?
  • What do you want?
    e.g.: “I’m thinking about my future career steps after university, so I’d be really keen to learn more about your gradiate program. Could I connect with you to discuss this later?”
  • Talk about others after doing your due diligence on areas such as
    • Background information about key people
    • Recent announcements about the company
    • Current issues/events in industry

Dr Wohlgezogen also emphasised that most people feel uncomfortable about networking. “It is unnatural,” he said. “You are pushing yourself into someone else’s face. You are going beyond your comfort zone. And that person doesn't want you to push your face into theirs.”

And the reason for this? “Putting yourself out there is risky, you could worry you’re making a fool of yourself in front of people who could have the power to give you a job,” he explained.

Overcoming the discomfort of connecting: 4 Cs

COMFORTABLE

  • Find a way to connect with others that you are comfortable with
  • You cannot change what you look like, but you must be comfortable in your own skin in order for the other person to feel comfortable about engaging with you
  • It’s not about authenticity; you are playing a role and it’s a little bit of a game, but do it in a way that makes you comfortable
  • Do it again, and again, and again

COURTEOUS

  • Be respectful and polite
  • Create respectful distance

CORDIAL

  • Warm and speak from the heart
  • Empathise with the other person

CURIOUS

  • Be excited about the person you are meeting
  • Find out their views and perspectives

Step 3: FOLLOW UP POSITIVELY

Finally, always follow up after meeting someone. This is a opportunity to ask for feedback too. Your aim is to be just likeable and confident enough to get noticed and remembered. In the meantime, practice gratitude: being grateful for people in your life and your opportunities makes you feel positive about what you have and what you could achieve.

networking
Always look professional, be polite and friendly.

Development opportunities are offered to Bachelor of Commerce and Melbourne Business School students by the Student Employment and Enrichment team. To view more sessions like this, visit the PEP webpage. Registrations are essential. 

To stay informed, check your student newsletter, delivered at 12pm every Monday on teaching weeks.