By guest blogger, on 3 December 2012
The name of the game at UCL’s award-winning Professional Networking series of events is clearly networking itself. Alums come to listen, ask questions, and then discuss and mix with the panellists and other attendees.
Networking was certainly the buzzword of the night at UCL’s eleventh Alumni Professional Networking event, “Promote Yourself: How to build your PR and Marketing connections”.
Welcomed by panel chair Pete Digger (UCL English 1994), the four panellists represented a range of positions and roles across the field of PR, marketing, and advertising.
Digger prefaced the panel discussion with some statistics from his own successful career: of the seven PR jobs he has held, he only applied for two through the traditional CV-shortlist-interview process. The other five provide examples of the night’s main lesson – building a network, and making yourself valuable within that network, is the way up the professional ladder in this job market.
After graduating, Jonathan Bannister (UCL Geography 1990) worked in advertising in the UK and later in Hong Kong. In 2010 he founded Make Happy, a creative agency that provides services from design to strategy. His first nugget of advice was to research a company well before interviewing with them – you’ll need to explain what you can bring, and what interests you.
Going to an interview that you haven’t properly prepared for is a waste of your time, and theirs.
Jonathan also reminded the audience that networking is hard work; after returning from Hong Kong, he had to work hard to develop a network of his own, but now has over a thousand connections on LinkedIn.
As the most recent graduate on the panel, Felicity Green (UCL Geography 2011) was able to speak about the difficulties of getting a job straight out of university. After passing her CV around to friends and family, and asking for work experience at McDonalds, she was hired as a Marketing Coordinator for the fast food chain. Her advice for grads? “Go for things even if they’re not what you’re expecting. And don’t be snobbish about the pay”.
Green also pointed out that if you impress the interviewers and stand out during the selection process, they’ll keep your CV on file and you might get a call months later.
Nik Pollinger (UCL Digitial Anthropology 2011) set up his own agency, Wide PR, in 2001, after two years of working in a PR firm. “What I didn’t realize,” he said, “is that I had the skills to succeed, but I didn’t have the network”.
He worked hard to build that network and now Wide PR has a major contract with a top five FTSE 100 company.
Pollinger’s version of the ‘make your own luck’ adage is that hard work means pushing yourself to go out to events, to meet people, to force yourself into networking situations that will someday pay off.
Zoe Paxton (UCL English 2003) also emphasised the importance of hard work, in terms of the value it gives you in an interview situation. She credited her early success after graduation to her familiarity with the ‘world of work,’ saying: “If you’re used to it, they can smell it on you when you go in”.
Interviewing is not just about proving your skills – you also want to show them that you would be a reliable and amiable colleague.
Paxton advised attendees to always be working if possible, and to constantly look around for opportunities. She was hired as Press Officer for the Home Office after spotting an advert in the Guardian, and is now the Chief Press Officer for the Cabinet Office.
Networking is often cited by UCL’s alumni panellists as the way to break into a new field, advance in your work, or move in another direction. But in a career that is all about promotion and marketing, the first and most important thing to promote is yourself. And networking is the way to do it.