This week has been a whirlwind for me of presentations, volunteering and networking, but despite feeling like I haven’t had a minute to myself I would not change one thing. Each aspect has been and is vital to my future career, but my favourite one that has produced the most results for me has been networking. So many students get the opportunity to network, but don’t recognise them for what they really are. The event I ran in January, Meet The Professionals, is promoted as being an opportunity for students to network, but what happens when those opportunities are missed?
Recently it feels like I’ve been on a lucky streak when it comes to networking, but when it’s all boiled down to the basics it’s just me taking every opportunity possible. It all started at the CIPR Wessex AGM which, admittedly, I hadn’t associated with networking. As my university’s CIPR student representative I thought it would be something interesting to go along to, mainly to find out how it works and what sort of stuff is discussed. The last thing I expected was a networking opportunity that would spark a chain of events!
At this AGM I met Jason MacKenzie, the current President of CIPR, and, after working up the courage during the meeting, I asked if I could talk to him briefly after the meeting had finished and get some advice from him. After having a friendly chat with him about PR and generally putting the world to rights, he gave me some valuable advice, that I should be networking where I want to work, in my case London. Jason even offered me some help, introducing me to a couple of the committee members of CIPR Greater London (something I will always be so grateful for).
From here I attended my first Greater London event, the monthly DrinkNLink. I’m going to be honest, I was terrified. I thought I wasn’t going to know anyone there, that none of the professionals would want to talk to me, a lowly student, and that I would spend the majority of the evening sat in a corner nursing a (large) glass of wine (and possibly a bottle). I could not have been more wrong. Not only did I see Jason there, but I met other students in a similar situation to me and was introduced to professionals that were just as interested in me as I was in them. I had a wonderful time discussing wine, the NHS Missing Type campaign and hearing about one lady’s experience travelling the world for her career, something I now aspire to myself. In university I feel it is constantly suggested that there is this huge gap between academics and the industry, especially when it comes to networking, but I saw no gap on Monday. Everyone was willing to share their advice with me and even help me along the way and now I cannot wait for the next one!
My takeaway from these chain of events?
Take any opportunity you can. You may not realise it as a networking opportunity, but worst case scenario, you learn some new stuff about PR and get the chance to talk to people who have similar interests to you.
Be brave.Do you want to be working in Manchester or London, but you’re studying elsewhere? Be brave and make the trip. It’s more expensive, but if you can make connections with people in the area you want to work you’re increasing your chances of getting a job there! Yes, it’s scary when you don’t know people, but by throwing yourself in the deep end you’re giving yourself a lot of opportunities! Personally I’d suggest you go alone. Yes it’s ten times scarier, but if you’re with a friend you’re more likely to just stick together and not go out and meet new people. There’s a fine line between them supporting you and you staying in your comfort zone.
Take business cards. I’m going to do a whole blog on this, probably next week, but business cards are great way to make yourself memorable. They may seem old fashioned and outdated but they are still a great way of collecting all your contact information in one place. You’ll also receive lots in return, so I’d definitely recommend downloading the CamCard app onto your phone. It’s a way of storing all those business cards you collect in one place. You can even export and save it, just in case!
Be prepared. If possible find out who’s going and read up a bit on their companies. Find out what sort of industries they work in and if it’s relevant to what you want to do. You sound extra smart if you know a successful campaign they’ve worked on and can discuss it.
Know when and where to be. There are so many opportunities out there that you probably just aren’t aware of. Regularly checking the CIPR and PRCA calendars keeps you up to date with any events going on, if they’re relevant to you and if you can go along. These two organisations do a lot to help people, especially students, network and provide that helping hand to get you into the industry. You just need to be aware of it and willing to jump on board and grab the opportunity with both hands!
Use the opportunities! Don’t sit in a corner. Once you take the first step of talking to someone they are likely to introduce to someone else that they may know and so the chain of connections continues! I’m a very shy person when I don’t know someone, so taking that first step for me always feels almost impossible, but once I’ve done it the evening runs away with me and before I know it I’m chatting away and cracking jokes!
Be yourself. People buy people, so be positive and friendly. If you can show your passion for the industry others will notice. Talk about the specific areas of PR you’re interested in and why. Others may have differing opinions, but it’s a chance to learn more. Who knows, they may sway you to their way of thinking!
Ask questions. What sort of campaigns have they worked on? What’s their favourite department and why? How did they get to where they are today? Questions not only show you’re interested, but they also give you more information. Hearing someone talk about an industry that they’re working in that you’ve never considered before may well change your mind! People’s passion is strangely contagious.
Always follow up! Send an email the next day just saying it was lovely to meet them. If you said you’d send your cv send it across, if not, send it anyway! Even if you didn’t connect with them that well add them on LinkedIn. Ask about any opportunities they might have. Grad schemes may seem like the be all and end all but companies aren’t going to turn down a good candidate when they find one, so talk to them about any entry level opportunities they might have (if you haven’t already, of course)!
There are so many opportunity to grow your network, you just need to know where to find them, so keep an eye out, don’t be afraid and jump in the deep end. Who knows the connections and opportunities you may discover.
So good luck and happy networking!