An important thing to keep in mind is that networking is not a competition. You are there to make genuine connections and relationships and to put your best foot forward.
If you are having difficulty putting yourself out there, these few tips will help guide you and prepare you for networking success!
Tip #1: Where do you even find networking events for students?
Before getting into the tips, we should first know where to find networking events. Waterloo offers a wide range of opportunities to build connections with employers and organizations on various platforms, both in-person and online!
The easiest way to find events and workshops is through the WaterlooWorks website. Once you log in, click on “Additional Networking & Professional Events” on the left-hand side of the page (see photo below). A calendar shows up with all the past and upcoming events that the school has to offer. You can click on the event you are interested in to get more information and register.
You can also find what's happening on campus, from free public lectures to workshops and information sessions on the Waterloo Events website.
Attending and participating in these events and workshops can not only allow you to learn something new but also make connections with people that are within the same field of interest as you. So, don’t be afraid to join!
Tip #2: Don’t be shy – Everyone is open and ready to talk to you!
Stepping into an area full of employers of great companies can be frightening and may put a lot of pressure on you to display the best and most professional side of yourself. This, in fact, is a big myth that gets into a lot of our heads.
You must remind yourself that networking is an opportunity to make friends. For the most part, we were taught not to approach strangers, however, at events like these you are meant to talk to new people. Everyone there expects to have a chat with you, so don’t be afraid to just do it.
If small talk is a skill you lack, the best tip to give is to be genuine. Here are some easy conversation starters to help you approach someone:
- Introduce yourself: “Hi, my name is ____ and I’m a _____ student. It’s a pleasure to meet you!”
- Mention the setting of the event: “This is such a great venue to have for this event. Have you ever been here before?”
- Discuss news in your industry: “I noticed you’re in the start-up industry, have you read about… I find it so interesting that…”
Tip #3: Ask open-ended questions that you are interested in getting the answers for.
If you had the opportunity to speak with your favourite artist or public figure, it is fair to say you would likely be fully immersed in the conversation. You would ask questions that you really want to know the answers to.
Take this scenario and replace it with your conversation with an employer. Ask them questions that you find interesting and really listen to their responses. Don’t walk into an event with a memorized list of questions. Asking questions you really want to get the answers to will help the conversation flow naturally.
Don’t just ask:
- What company do you work for?
- What do you do?
- Do you have any job openings?
- What is your favourite part of your job?
- What was your career path like leading up to your role?
- Where do you see your organization going in the future?
Tip #4: Don’t be afraid to make connections outside of networking events.
If networking events might be a big step to take, you can start by making connections on campus!
Talking to your professor can be a great opportunity for you to make a good connection. Asking them about their career path and real-world experiences may help guide you to reach your goals. They are some of the wisest people when it comes to school, experience and careers (plus, it makes a good impression in class).
Another way to network on campus is by joining student organizations. Being involved in organizations that suit your interests or field of study may not only allow you to learn new skills, but it can give you an opportunity to connect with other students who are on a similar path as you.
The Waterloo Undergraduate Student Association (WUSA) offers more than 200 clubs/organizations ranging from hobbies, studies, religions, etc. To find a club that meets your interests, you can check out WUSA’s club page.
Tip #5: Build your LinkedIn profile!
If connecting with strangers still feels too intimidating for you, a great way to network is through online platforms like LinkedIn. This is a great tool to find people who are in the position you want to be in the future.
A good connection may start from something as small as a quick message asking them how they ended up in their role.
If you want a closer connection, ask to set up a virtual call. Having a 15-minute chat with someone may give you just the right amount of information to take the next step in your career journey.
Abdurrahman Muni, a Waterloo alumnus, shares his co-op journey and explains why creating a LinkedIn profile is crucial to building the career that you want. And if you don’t know how to improve your profile, we have a blog for that too!
Now that you have a few tips on networking both in-person and online, get out there and go for it! Remember that networking is just having meaningful conversations that will lead you to great opportunities.
There is no need to think too much about it, just be you.
About the author
Social Media Campaign Coordinator
Mariam is an Arts and Business co-op student at the University of Waterloo and is currently completing her third co-op term as a Social Media Campaign Coordinator for Co-operative and Experiential Education (CEE). One of the main projects she is working on this term is writing blogs for the Co-operative Education blog page. To date, she has written about helpful co-op tips and student co-op experiences and continues to write more blogs to share information that can benefit other co-op students! Feel free to check out Mariam's LinkedIn.