How to network and plan for the future

Connecting and interacting with people virtually in both a personal and professional capacity has become the new norm. So, in this new normal how can students and graduates’ network, grow their connections and plan for the future post Covid-19? gradireland editor Ruairi Kavanagh talked to Ntsoaki Phakoe-McKevitt, careers coach at Dublin Business School, to find out.

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Normal life has been turned upside down for everyone but for students and graduates who were preparing for their future, what do they do now? Previous generations followed a path which could be replicated and improved upon but in these unprecedented times, how do students and graduates proceed? 

According to Ntsaoki, they can still fall back on practises that are tried and tested and that they would have been engaging in regardless of the pandemic. 

Connect

“I would always advise students that are in final year that, you should be networking. Any career events that your college would have put on, that would have been the best time to start to interact with people. At this stage you should have attended a couple of careers talks or webinars, you should have attended careers events and you should have sent on a couple of connection requests on LinkedIn. Think of an event or a talk that you might have gone to, who were the interesting speakers, reach out and connect with them.” 

Get personal 

“When you are looking at roles it’s key to build your network specific to the areas you are looking to get into. If you have a couple of job roles that you are getting notified about, it’s no harm to connect to the person who posted that role because you might be able to link in with them. You might be able to identify a mutual connection so you could get that person to introduce you to that recruiter or introduce you to someone who might be a decision maker in the company.” 

Get in touch

“You join an organisation because there’s something about that company that draws you in, attracts you and motivates you to apply. If there are any companies you are looking to get involved with, connect with them on LinkedIn, see who is working for them, once again identify your mutual connections and get in contact with them or even just start a conversation with someone who works in the organisation who you have already been connected with before-hand.” 

How to portray the best you 

Everyone knows the term networking, and students hear it all the time in relation to graduate jobs, but what are some of the best practices to adhere to when making a connection on LinkedIn?  

“Some of my tips for LinkedIn would be, maybe you haven’t changed your profile picture in a while, you should look to revamp it. It’s always good to change your summary section now and again because you’re always learning new things and you’re always acquiring new skills. A lot of students will be completing their studies soon, so they’re no longer students, they are now actively looking for work, so it’s important to reflect that. Always update. If you have any projects going on or if you have done things in the last couple of months and just haven’t had the chance to display them on your LinkedIn profile, now is a perfect time. Update your profile with images as well which will make your profile media-rich.”  

#trending 

It can be easily forgotten that LinkedIn is a social media platform so it’s important to keep up to date with what topics are being discussed and what people are engaging with most recently. 

“It’s great even to just jump on what’s trending. Make sure you understand Covid-19 and the pandemic. People are recommending changes to mental health and health and safety exercises, how to do this, how to do that so keep on top of those changes. Maybe you might have some advice about what’s working for you. Create a conversation that way, building up engagement on your profile.” 

Use the past to help you move forward 

Is delving into your past and connecting with former work colleagues a good way to expand your LinkedIn connections? 

“I’ve had a couple of people I’ve worked with in the past reaching out just to see how I am, how I’m coping, how I’m getting on, which it’s really good! The fact of the matter is that they’re able to recommend and suggest opportunities that are out there that they have knowledge about, or they may be in talks with someone who they may be able to leverage. It’s good to build conversations. It’s no harm keeping up with those contacts even if they’re not currently recruiting, because they likely will be in the future.” 

Referees 

Are adding references to your LinkedIn profile worthwhile or should you wait until you have further progressed in your career? 

“I think it’s great. I have given some references in the past myself but as a student it’s a valuable way of having someone reflect on your time working with them so that they can highlight your key competencies and areas of development as well. When you’re constantly promoting yourself it’s a great way of getting someone else to back you up and It also helps to give a little insight into your personality and how other people perceive you. 

As a student or graduate, you will have been told to connect with people on LinkedIn and start conversations with employers but that is easier said than done. In the first part of our interview, Ntsaoki gives practical advice which you can implement to help you to get the conversation started about your graduate career. 

The modern CV 

With the increasing importance of digital channels in the graduate recruitment landscape and the move away from more traditional hiring methods, are CV’s still as important as ever? 

‘I would always say base your CV on your LinkedIn profile. Whenever you apply for a job you need to spend time modifying that CV to ensure that all your key experiences are there so that you can be selected as a suitable candidate for the role because you meet the criteria. LinkedIn, on the other hand, allows you to put up everything that you have done. Your CV is always changing whereas you are always adding to your digital channels. We always advise students to have no more than two pages because you’re unlikely to have too much work experience so anything over two pages is likely just unnecessary.’ 

The virtual meetings 

Whether you are trying to upskill through an online course or webinar, or you have a virtual interview on the horizon, digital platforms have created ways for us to remain engaged. 

So how do you get involved constructively with a webinar or make the most of your virtual interview? 

 “At a webinar, I always wonder myself, should I say something, or shouldn’t I? The only thing I can say is that, make sure when you are joining a webinar that you have all the information. Make sure you understand the topic that is going to be discussed and it’s always good to know who is delivering the webinar. You might be able to look at their career and connect with them on LinkedIn beforehand – you might be able to come up with a question because of that. At the start introduce yourself, a little bit about who you are, where you’re working and where you’re from. You can then build from there. If there is anyone that you find interesting who is going to be attending the webinar, use a question relating to something interesting they raised as a way of sending a connection request because you can add a note when you’re connecting. That’s a way to start a conversation. Set yourself one tiny little goal for each webinar and you can build your knowledge and network that way.” 

What tips do you have for anyone who has a video interview to make the most of it and make the best possible impression? 

“Do a practice one with a friend so you can make sure that your video is clear, and you can see what’s behind you. Make sure you’re fully dressed! First impressions matter and there’s nothing worse than wearing a dress and then wearing some tracksuit bottoms or pyjamas and then standing up mid-frame. Treat it as a real interview. Make sure that if you are living in a house with other people that they’re aware of the time that your video interview is taking place, so they will know to be quiet as well. Ensure that you have located a room to give yourself enough time to prepare. Have a glass of water on the side. If an interviewer asks you a question and you have a couple of seconds where your mind just draws a blank despite all your preparation, taking a sip of water and asking them to rephrase the question gives yourself that little bit of time to breath so that you can come up with an appropriate answer. Because you have more time to prepare than normal, if there is something you’re lacking from a skill-set perspective, start working on it. Even if you have  only 10% of it completed by the time your interview takes place, it showcases your hard work ethic, your commitment and attitude towards ongoing learning.” 

Avoid social media pitfalls 

Now that you will have more time than usual to prepare for interviews, the questions you are asked might be a little more tricky than usual, so make time to prepare for them. It is also useful to take this time to go through your social media accounts and make sure there is nothing on there that could be misconstrued or may have a negative impact on your employability. 

So, what other social media faux pas should students avoid on other platforms? (now that recruiters can’t meet people, they may be more likely to go through other social media platforms) 

“Check your social media accounts and make sure that there is nothing there that is going to come across as conflicting or confrontational. I would take on a strategy and approach it bit by bit. Obviously, for your Facebook, you might be going back through years and years so delete a couple of images or photos that you might not want out there. Once you have taken down anything that can be construed as inappropriate, connect with employers on social media. Always make sure that you’re highlighting or putting up things that you are getting actively involved in. If you are an avid Instagram user and you use it for personal use, make sure it’s on private. Make sure you’re checking your settings regarding what can be seen from the outside. Even ask a friend to have a look at your profile to see if there is anything there that they might see as inappropriate, to get a different perspective.” 

The time is now 

Networking is something that you will build throughout your career so is it more important than ever to use this time to start making connections, research and prepare for your future? 

“Absolutely. Now is the time to maybe connect with contacts you might have lost touch with as you changed roles. Research what Covid-19 means for your industry and start researching what your new way of working will be and make sure that you are as best prepared for it as you can be. Identify skills and resources you think will be valuable post-pandemic and if you already have some of them make sure to highlight them.” 

Understandably there is a lot of pessimism and uncertainty in the world right now but as Ntsoaki says, there is a future and you can begin to prepare for it. By taking on board the information and utilising some of this advice, you can emerge from this pandemic as prepared as you can possibly be to launch your graduate career.  

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