Networking is the art of holding a conversation and making a positive impression to form a mutually beneficial connection with someone. It is something you do every day with your friends, colleagues and the new people you meet in your life.
In terms of your career, networking can be a useful tool in developing your labour market knowledge and exploring career openings. It can also lead you to unadvertised opportunities in the hidden job market. Finding a contact with knowledge about an industry, or about a company or job can save valuable time and increase your understanding of the post that you are applying for.
Anyone can develop their network at any time – you don’t have to have lots of connections to begin with. In fact, sometimes it is a good idea to keep your network small to begin with as you develop strong relationships with your connections.
Networking is: an effective and recommended method for increasing your awareness of opportunities when job hunting and for making potential employers aware of you.
Networking is not: about asking influential people for a job – chances are they won’t have one available on demand.
Improve your networking skills
Skills you need for networking:
- Informal and formal social skills
- Good communication skills
- Active listening skills
Note: You can still develop your network if you are reserved or shy. Good networking is often about asking lots of questions and showing a genuine interest in what the other person has to say, so don’t worry if you’re not always confident talking about yourself.
See our Career Snapshot: Making the most of employer events - a short guide to help you prepare for employer events and networking opportunities.
If you are at the beginning stages of building your network, the five-point plan below might be useful:
Beginning Networking: a five-point plan
- Have a goal in mind – networking is usually most successful if you have already done a bit of research into a sector or a company, so you have an idea of what you’d like to achieve by developing your network.
- Who are your contacts already? List people you know who are connected to your chosen career area and people who may know someone else who is. Consider academic staff, alumni, employers/alumni visiting our careers fairs, parents/ relatives, their friends, parents and relatives of your friends and so on. Each of these contacts is likely to have their own network of further contacts.
- Plan where you will do your networking. This could include careers fairs, employer talks, conferences, industry projects, professional bodies or special interest groups. Many networking events are now taking place online too. Have a look at the [Events Calendar] for some ideas coming up soon.
- How will you make your introduction? It might help to prepare a short paragraph or two, introducing yourself, stating what you have to offer and what your plans are as a good starting point. This might include what you’re currently doing at Imperial, some information about relevant work experience/projects/skills developed and your thoughts or ideas about how your contact could help you (e.g. provide a few minutes of their time to discuss...).
- Follow up and say thanks. Follow up your arrangements with your contact and prepare questions you wish to ask, thinking about the initial goal you had in mind. Are you trying to find out what it’s like to work in a particular company or sector? Are you hoping to find out what skills are most sought after in new graduates? Make sure to thank the people that have given their time for you, as this leaves a positive impression of the interaction and builds your reputation.
Expand your network
Who do you already know?
Make a list of contacts you have engaged with professionally already, for example:
- Industry or business contacts you've met during collaborations or while attending conferences
- Professional networks and special interest groups
- Within your own department - academic staff, postdocs, PhD students (past and present)
- Other students will go on to have their own networks, connect now so you can stay in touch in the future
Remember each of your contacts has their own network and people are often more willing to provide information and advice than you might think.
Careers Service events
The Careers Service arranges a number of networking and employer-led events you can book via JobsLive. For further information, please check the What's on section of the website.
Alumni associations are a great way to meet new people and provide their members with plenty of opportunities for networking. Imperial has alumni associations all over the world who will be pleased to welcome you. Find out more on the alumni pages.
If you have any questions about alumni associations, please contact the Alumni Office.
The Careers Service also has initiatives you can use to engage with alumni.
Networking online makes sense in a global labour market, and has proved especially popular while in-person networking opportunities have been difficult to organise. If your subject has a connection with a professional association, it’s worth checking whether there are any online networking opportunities advertised on their website. This is also true for professional associations relevant to the career path you wish to pursue.
Get started thinking about online networking by checking out our YouTube video - Career Snaphot: Networking at online events.
LinkedIn and social media
LinkedIn is a widely used professional networking site that enables individuals to connect with one another or join interest groups across the globe.
You can use LinkedIn to find information and boost your own presence, as well as connecting with interesting people including Imperial Alumni.
- Once you are a LinkedIn group member, you will be able to learn about other members of that group and you can study their career paths.
- You can connect with people directly, pose questions or simply read up about current debates to inform your understanding of a job sector.
- Your LinkedIn profile can boost your visibility for employers, and is an opportunity to expand on points you have mentioned in your CV.
- To engage with Imperial alumni, you can request to join the Imperial College London alumni group for access to 210,000 former students from 180 countries.
The key to using LinkedIn effectively is creating a personal profile and writing a short summary statement about yourself. For information about LinkedIn and how to use it effectively for your job hunting and networking visit the LinkedIn student webpages, which have a range of pdfs and videos to help get you started.
You can also book onto one of our Career Essentials: LinkedIn workshops via JobsLive
Many employers have created Facebook pages, Twitter feeds and blogs – all of which can help you stay informed about the industry sector you are hoping to enter.
Before you get actively involved in using social media for networking and job hunting, consider typing your own name into Google to check your digital footprint and ensure that what people see is what you would like them to see.