Kirstin on Fullback and Friends | For most of us, as soon as the word ‘networking’ is mentioned, we go into a cold sweat, and respond with “oh, I am not very good at networking”, and let’s not even think about going to an event on your own, and building up the confidence to introduce yourself, and talk to fellow professionals. Even if you do manage to attend the event, did you remember those lovely glossy business cards? For some reason we believe networking is only for the selected few.

This is why I love LinkedIn, not just for building my own professional networks, but also within my job and service delivery as a Placements Officer within Higher Education. Every day, I support under-graduates (Manchester School of Art and Humanities/Social Science students) with organising placement & work based learning experiences to support their degrees, and opportunities that will help, them identify what type(s) of career paths they would like to pursue following graduation.

18-21+ year old, under graduates, rarely identify themselves as confident, polished, networkers. Nor, do they believe, that they are in a position to build a professional network, and it is my job to help them see who they are, & what they have achieved through their degree, volunteering, work experience and extra-curricular activities, that this is the ideal opportunity to start connecting with a wide range of professionals.

Like a traditional CV, revising, updating, changing the layout, pondering on what parts of your CV is now out of date, writing and re-writing, and re-writing again your personal profile, and holding back on sending your CV to employers until (in your eyes) it is perfect. Many LinkedIn users to the same with their profiles. They update, re-write, re-write again, change their profile picture (multiple times), upload their portfolios, until it is reads and looks fantastic; but, what, good is that without, like-minded professionals having the opportunity to look in, and review your profile, and read your updates on a regular basis?

So the million-dollar question…how do I get my first connection? Easy, research your work and academic background to date. For under-graduates, this means starting with your degree, search for peers on your course, and for colleagues who teach you. If you are stuck on names, search under University name and/or course name, this will widen your search, and help remind you just how many professionals you are, connected, to. For many students, extra-curricular activities are a large part of the student experience, so as well as connecting with others, and don’t forget to start following interest groups, as this will help introduce you to a larger professional audience, and before you know it, you will be receiving connection requests. See, how easy is networking, and you thought networking was not for you.

Get in the habit of searching your current employer, to identify colleagues you work with, and then connect. You can then work backwards through your employment history and start identifying connections. Remember most companies can, be followed on LinkedIn, this will help grow your networks, and you will be, and kept up with news and opportunities.

The students I work with are usually seeking a wide range of placement and work based learning experiences during their 3-4 years of study at University. For some, getting into a sector/profession can initially feel difficult, and for some, impossible. So through my 1-2-1 sessions, we use LinkedIn to research companies, and one of my favour tips is to intern search, ie. search under ‘Top 20 textiles interns’ or ‘Top 20 media interns’, this will produce a list of intern profiles, that you can view, and will help a student see where they have interned, what their employment history has involved, and the types of skills they have gained/developed. In addition, it helps to see how other professionals within industry showcase and promote themselves through their profiles.

So, this is where we take our networking up a notch, this is where we, transform ourselves into bold and confident networkers, use your growing network to introduce you to new connections, to enable you to connect and network with them long-term. Go on, be bold, and try it.

Top tip, when you are sending out connection requests, take time to personalise your requests, make the person you are connecting with feel special, and wherever possible introduce yourself, and if you have previously met them through a talk, event, workshop, business development – mention the when, where and how’s.
As I work with so many under-graduates, and I am pleased to say, connected with so many as well, receiving updates when they have connected with others brings a huge smile to my face, and I feel that I have done my job well, building their confidence, and seeing them grow into LinkedIn superstars.

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