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Written by Nicole Estwick, Careers Consultant at UCL Careers.
Networking in the traditional sense is a concept that can fill some with dread, but there is now more than one way to meet and connect with individuals that share a common interest with you. No longer is it solely about making an approach and sharing small talk in a room full of people, but a large part of networking now also takes place remotely with individuals using a range of platforms to build an online profile in order to connect with recruiters, employers and other professionals.
But where do you start with finding, interacting and building a network of contacts in the field you’re interested in? In this post, we’ll outline the key resources you can use to build your network from the comfort of home.
- LinkedIn: LinkedIn is perhaps the most well-known platform for connecting with professionals online with a broad range of users across different industries and levels of experience. For students, it can seem a daunting place, however it is valuable tool in optimising career development and networking opportunities.
In terms of where to start, if you have an up to date CV then you can use this as the basis of creating a profile where you can also breakdown the skills and areas you wish to pursue a career in – this is key as recruiters often use LinkedIn to find potential candidates. Once you have a profile, you can start to build connections to grow your network and seek out new contacts. Start small with this by connecting with friends, family, and work colleagues before moving onto connecting with contacts of theirs that might be relevant to you and your career interests by sending a request along with a brief message. From there, if you continue to make connections and develop your profile, your web of contacts will grow, as will the opportunities you are presented with.
- UCL Alumni Online Community: For those who are looking to make contacts within a smaller pool of people, the UCL Alumni Online Community offers a great opportunity to connect exclusively with former students from UCL who are now working across the world.
Within the platform, you can search for alumni by the course they studied, the department they were in or even by employer so you can identify how many students have gone onto work for a specific company in the online directory. Select alumni within the directory will also be labelled with a ‘Willing to help’ badge whereby they have agreed to support current students with careers advice or in some cases to become a mentor to students who are looking for guidance with their next steps. To use the website, you will need to register before gaining access to the directory to connect with UCL Alumni and start making new contacts.
- Social Media: Whilst many of us use social media to connect with friends and family, platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram can be particularly useful for making professional connections, especially in areas such as the arts and creative industries where recruitment processes vary in comparison to more traditional sectors.
Where appropriate, consider making a professional profile away from your personal account and use this to follow new contacts and employers, share your work and engage in conversations with others online. You can also use the Direct Messaging (DM) function to send an introductory note to organisations or individuals you are interested in and in some cases this can often be a much more successful way of making contact as opposed to email which may not be reviewed as often.
- Forums: Although somewhat trickier to source, forums are another useful way to engage in conversation with others who have a similar interest to you. They can also be useful in conducting further research into the trends or challenges that may exist within your chosen industry and allow you to seek out information that may not be as readily accessible on mainstream websites.
Consider starting with the professional body of the sector you are interested in, which often have forum or chat pages where professionals discuss current industry news and issues. In the current climate, some of these bodies are also offering virtual webinars and events which could be another way of sourcing new contacts in your network.
- Apps: There are apps available for most things on the market at the moment and networking is no exception. One of the apps that has gained popularity in recent years is Shapr, where you can build your profile based on the career fields you are most interested in, your professional goals, and your status as entrepreneur, freelancer, student, etc. A similar app, Debut is aimed directly at students looking to showcase their profile and skills to connect with graduate employers. Whilst these apps do include paid for content, there are also some free features for networking so it’s worth taking the time to try these out and decide what could work best for you.
In trying one, two or even all five of the options listed above, there is the potential to not only progress your career but also build your confidence in networking- a skill which will be essential not only now but in the future too. Watch the CareersLab episode on mastering online networking for further advice or visit our online careers library for helpsheets.