Networking in a system
“Hi, my name is Edward, nice to meet you.”
Saying those 9 words can be a daunting task. Especially when you’re saying it to someone older than you, more experienced than you, and someone who may very well be your future employer. But those 9 words can go much further than you realise. Those 9 words could very well land you your dream job – as implausible as that may sound, we can explain it by looking at society as a complex system.
In a system, all the connections between sections of the system are not made out initially, think of a blank slate. Instead, systems become increasingly complex as more and more interlinkages are created between ideas and people. In an economy, a more complex system is able to achieve more production, have greater innovation, and lead to increased wellbeing. At an individual level too, systems are important. Social networks are a prime example of this. Putting your foot forward and meeting that HR officer from the firm you aspire to work at will introduce to you new information and advice that you could not gain elsewhere – a new connection is born linking you and the firm.
That connection might seem small, but in a system, everything is path-dependent – what you do now has consequences further down the track. That piece of advice you receive could lead you to take a course you initially had no intention of doing. It may point you to a student society you had never heard of. It may give you the right motivation to pursue higher grades and get more actively involved. Meeting different people may even put you on a different path to what you originally envisioned! You can’t predict until those connections are formed – this is the crux of viewing the world as a system.
More importantly, viewing the world as a system means that simply attending a networking event won’t get you a job. While mainstream economic theory may tell us that ceteris paribus, attending networking events increases your chances of employment by x% through some model or mathematical function, the economics of systems delves deeper and looks at how that might happen organically. We create connections, and from those connections, even more connections are made that eventually culminates in employment. That’s why it can be a good start, and an important start, to make the most of networking events if you are still not sure where you see yourself in 5 years’ time.
Tips and Tricks
With that in mind, here are some tips and tricks to making the most of networking events, from seasoned networkers who shall remain unnamed.
1. Don’t bring an agenda to the conversation
Treat networking as an exercise in reducing asymmetric information. The recruiters you are talking to can see ulterior motives from a mile away. Be respectful, be humble, and leave a good impression like you would with any interaction, and don’t try to brag about your qualifications to them. Your resume can do that when you apply for vac work or a graduate role. The encounter will be much less awkward if you simply have a conversation with them about their work, about their experiences so far, or even just about the weather. It is a good idea to think of some generic questions beforehand to lighten the conversation and make it enjoyable for everyone.
2. Research the firms
Don’t forget your due diligence and market analysis! It’s important to realise that recruiters are people too, and probably get annoyed by questions that can be easily answered by a quick google search. Have a basic idea of what the firm does, so that you can focus on talking about things that firms don’t put on their website. Ask things like what they think will be significant developments in their profession in a few years time, or why they personally chose to work at the particular firm. It is a unique opportunity to be able to dig deeper into the personality of a firm, so make the most of it by starting with a reasonable understanding of the firm.
3. Have an entry and exit strategy
This is an underappreciated skill in networking. Quite often, you’ll find yourself awkwardly trying to wedge yourself into a circle of students huddled around a firm rep or graduate recruiter like penguins. These circles are not monopolistic markets! Have a sensible market entry and exit strategy to make the most of the competitive networking market.
Entry: be strategic about which conversations you enter into. Choose conversations with relatively few people (2-3) or where you spot someone you know. Ideally, be the one to initiate a conversation with a firm rep who isn’t speaking to anyone. When you join the conversation, make firm eye contact with the firm rep and, when there is a suitable pause in the conversation, don’t hesitate to introduce yourself confidently. Alternatively, if you spot a friend, you could get them to introduce you into the conversation.
Exit: This one is important. There is very little point in attending a networking event if you only speak to one or two firm representatives. Everyone tacitly understands that you are trying to get as clear a picture from as many firms as possible, so there is nothing rude in leaving a conversation once you have all the information you need. Make sure to be respectful though. The conversation may naturally die down, which makes it easy to thank them for their time and advice, and move on. Even if it isn’t, take the time to recap on the conversation, thank the firm representative for their kind advice, before moving on.
These tips and tricks cover some of the basics of networking. If you would like to find out more, there are a multitude of thought leadership style articles on LinkedIn on this subject. Alternatively, if you have some sage advice of your own, feel free to message them through to the UQES page or firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll include it in this year’s new and improved Careers Guide!
Liked what you read about systems? ECON3540, Evolutionary Economics, looks at concepts like this in much more detail – check it out if you’re interested!