It’s just over a month since you started university (though it does feel longer) and by now you’ve probably been to a few events where people keep telling you to network. This is the beginning or continuation of a life-long activity that can either become a chore or an exciting opportunity to establish new relationships. The art of networking is one that needs developing as interaction with people takes place in different forms — it may involve one-on-one meetings, conference calls with peers or mentors and even via social media platforms. As a student you will inevitable attend mixers, conferences or events that will require you up your small talk game and, with some the help of the tips suggested here, take networking beyond fishing for business cards and insignificant chitchat.

1. Build Genuine Relationships

When networking became a 21st century buzzword, it was a way of better meeting people with similar interests and establishing relationships across different spaces — networks. However, it fast became just a word people used to justify the need to accumulate contact details and make small talk with as many people in a room. To make use of opportunities of interaction with people, its essential to understand what networking is about. Appreciate that the essence of networking is to build genuine relationships with people. Invest in quality conversations with one or two people after a conference or at a mixer, rather than chasing 20 people for 5 second conversations. Focus on creating genuine relationships by listening, contributing to the conversation and showing real interest in what the other person has to say. This is the foundation of networking and if done right, can lead to a more fruitful and lifelong relationships.

2. Don’t just take — have something to give

Once the relationship has been established, it has to be nurtured. Genuine relationships are built on reciprocity. Whenever possible offer help or support to your network, whether it is in the form of a contact, a few hours of help or just a listening ear. Ask about the person’s current project with genuine interest in what they are pursuing and, if you have no knowledge in the particular subject, take it as an opportunity to learn. Just because you are a student, it does not mean that you have nothing to offer — your opinion, your time — that effort to be useful to your network is crucial. As this is a two-way street, it is also important to reach out to your network when you need help. A lot of professionals are always happy to offer advice on their expertise. If someone agrees to help you be sure to thank them.

3. Communicate frequently and consistently

Communication strengthens relationships. Reach out and stay in touch with people in your network, even if it just to say hello. Learn how to use different platforms such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to communicate with people professionally and socially. If you can, post and share what you are doing or what you’re are interested in on these platforms also to ensure your network knows what you are up to in case someone is also keeping up with you online. Note, this is not to say that you need to share what you had for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. Be intentional about your communication and remember — the internet never forgets.

4. Step out of the audience

Attending conferences or talks in your field of study allows you to meet people with similar interests and provides opportunities to brainstorm and connect with them on a personal level. Another way to take your event networking to the next level is through showcasing your expertise as a speaker instead of an attendee. Speaking at an event boosts your credibility in the space and gives a platform to offer your insights to others. You can start small with events at your university and then step out onto bigger stages.

With these insights go ye therefore and network!

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