Map Oxbridge Applications, 14 – 16 Waterloo Place, London, SW1Y 4AR

About the author

Laura Williams is the director of her own business, The Thinking Well, which is a small consultancy that offers coaching and training to individuals and organisations to help them to create environments that encourage independent thinking. She often works with those at the start of their careers to get them on the right path for them.

The importance of networking

People talk all the time about the importance of ‘networking’ to succeed in business and it cannot be denied – it is one of the most effective ways of finding work, especially in difficult economic times. It can also help you to find work experience relevant for your university application – be that in a hospital, in a bank or helping to arrange a music festival. But what is it really about and how can you be good at it?

It is never too early to start networking and building your contacts, as they will be hugely useful in later life.

There are tonnes of examples I could give you of where networking has led to great things and amazing careers. Networking could open your eyes to university courses and careers you might not even have heard of before.

But let’s just take my less well known journey as an example….

Age 16 – I started doing evening/weekend jobs handing out smoothies for Innocent drinks because my friend’s brother was one of the founders.
Age 18 – Decided to take a gap year. Worked at Innocent as an office angel for 6 months to pay for my trip. (And was allowed to drive the cow van!)
Age 21 – Left uni and a friend of mine asked if I wanted to temp at IMG Sports Management Group, seconded to the new Wembley Stadium. After 3 weeks they offered me a permanent job (you normally have to do a years unpaid internship at IMG, which in no way guarantees you a job!)
Age 23 – Decided IMG was not for me. Had a chat with a charity fundraising consultant that my mother knew as I was interested in charities. Got a job within a week working in charity events.
Age 25 – Wasn’t happy fundraising. I had coaching (free, through my network!) and decided to set up my own business in coaching and training as I was passionate about creating vibrant working environments and encouraging people to think well together.
Age 29 – I have been running my own business full-time and successfully for a year now and every single bit of business I’ve won has come through my personal network – friends or those I have met along my journey and kept in touch with.

Every successful step has come from networking. People buy, hire and sell people – not products and services. It is all about trust.

Now – networking is a horrible word.

To me, it suggests some kind of manipulative intention – making an effort with people for the sake of building up your own black book of contacts to call on for favours when you need them. Catching people in your selfish ‘net’ to use them to help you achieve your gains. Meeting as many people as possible and grabbing their business card. Not really ever connecting with them. This is not what real, successful networking is about. I would rather call it something like mutual befriending, but I don’t think that would ever take off. A good network consists of a combination of people who trust you, whom you trust, and in which both parties benefit from the relationship. Good networkers care – they ask questions, they find out about people – they remember things about people too. People love talking about themselves. Engage them in conversation, be genuinely interested in them, seek ways you can help and the value of your efforts will come back ten-fold over time. Good networkers meet people and think ‘What can I do for this person?’ way before they think ‘What can they do for me?’

But what about now? How can this apply to you if you are still at school?

This is all well and good – but how can you start building your networks now? The key is getting out there, being seen. Before and during university, your networking skills and the network itself will build from just being around people and getting involved in lots of different things.

Could networking be relevant to asking teachers for extra help if something is complicated? Talking to an external speaker at school and asking for work experience? Contacting organisations you are interested in by email to line up some work experience?

Whilst I’m stressing the importance of the people factor, experience is of course also key to getting a good job – a great person with no experience is highly unlikely to get a job. So get out there, work somewhere, volunteer, create something yourself. Keep your ears and eyes peeled for the next opportunity.

I haven’t even touched on social networking, which is a whole other area and not my specialism, but it offers a world of connectivity and opportunities for you to discover what might be good to get into.
Don’t be shy to do things for free either. Whether its charity volunteering, helping a friend, running an event, challenge yourself to step beyond what feels comfortable and try something new. Taking risks leads to the biggest opportunities.

Keeping in touch

Especially now, at the very beginning of your careers, it’s unlikely that you will need your networks as much as you may in a few year’s time. But don’t ignore them. Something I always try to do is keep people in the loop with what I’m doing – a quick email every 6 months, checking in, seeing how they are. Forwarding things I think are interesting. Arranging dinner or drinks every once in a while. The more you do this, the more fun you have with them! And the more likely it is that when they need something, they will think of you….and then when you need something, they might just be able to help. It’s about quality, not quantity – one great contact can open hundreds of doors.


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Oxbridge Applications, 14 – 16 Waterloo Place, London, SW1Y 4AR

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