by Sam Harding, eLoft Careers Student Blogger and 3rd Year Film and Media Student
Did you know that 70% of jobs are found through networking?
Networking, like any other skill, is one that can be taught and finessed through studying and practice. Having grown-up with a father who worked at two of the big four accounting firms, and a mother who gives career advice for a living, I’ve been surrounded by networking horror stories and glowing accounts for the best part of two decades. As a student entering my third year of an arts degree in Film and Media, I have never been more attuned to the importance of growing my network before I graduate than I am in this very moment.
First Step – Dive In!
When I first dove into the water, I felt as if I might panic and find myself unable to swim. But that wasn’t the case. Although I was anxious going into my first networking meeting, I came out the other side realizing something very important. To my surprise, the person sitting across from me that morning was constantly clasping their coffee cup, smiling too much, and occasionally in need of a moment to gather their thoughts before responding. Much like myself, they were nervous. In this instance, I believe they might have been more on edge than myself which ironically allowed me to feel more at ease and relax as the conversation progressed. After taking a deep breath and coming to the realization that I can do this, I found myself asking more questions, giving more insightful answers and just all around becoming more comfortable engaging with a complete stranger. Based on this experience, each time I now meet someone new, whether it be over the phone or in person, I notice the interactions flow easier. After a dozen or so introductions I had a good sense of how these things play out on a ‘normal’ day.
Tips for Your Networking Meeting Success
The most relevant and practical experience I have gained in the film industry, has come from meeting with strangers for coffee, asking lots of questions, and offering them something in return such as paying for their coffee or offering to connect them with others etc. If you don’t drink coffee (you’re missing out), tea, water or literally anything else will suffice. Here’s a list of networking questions you could use during these conversations:
You get the picture, it’s not exactly Aristotle but these are just a few of the questions that worked for me. Initially I was apprehensive to talk too much and decided listening was a much safer approach. However, after a few meetings I discovered that networking is relationship building and it takes two people sharing ideas to have a conversation. Without any sense of direction indicated, the other person has no framework within which to maneuver.
Confidence Will Come with Practice
For those of us who lean towards the more introverted side of the spectrum, fear not, confidence in networking can be built through practice. Try to be as self-aware as possible when determining which aspects of networking you need to polish up on. Whether it’s a subtle bouncing knee of nerves, or a simple matter of correcting one’s posture, every little improvement helps to present yourself in a more positive light.
If you’re looking to get a job out of an introduction meeting, you will most likely be disappointed. What I’ve found is that if you focus on building a connection and relationship with the other person, they’ll let you know when an opportunity arises. Always start a networking conversation by soaking up every detail of their story and finish it by offering to do them a service such as providing information, introducing them to others in your network etc. Present yourself smartly (overdressing is fine but never under), talk politely, and be on time. As someone who’s late to most of my life, I made a huge effort to be punctual to all meetings.
In my industry, often the first gig turns into a “favour” with little to no money on the table. But, it’s these favours that enable you to meet other people in their network who might have a more lucrative offer for you down the line. One of the first gigs I landed in my industry was providing script coverage for a film company. This was a volunteer type job that then developed into a paid one later.
My future plan is to keep growing the network, each time I interact with a new connection, I’ll try to come away with another name or two to explore. All it takes is one fluke connection through a family member, a friend, or the pizza guy to get things rolling and hopefully all this effort now will pay off once I graduate from my program.
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