Top networking tips for student civil engineers
TARGETjobs frequently asks graduates working in the construction industry about how they started their careers and ‘via networking’ is the increasingly common answer. Others say they wish they’d networked more while at university.
Networking is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as ‘interacting with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts’. This networking definition suggests that it isn’t about using someone as a way into a job – it’s about creating an ongoing relationship with people as you go through your career. You will want to start not by asking them directly whether they know of any vacancies, but by asking them for careers advice or their opinion on the industry.
Be confident when asking. You might feel that you haven’t much to offer your contacts now, but in time you will have. Remember, too, that people tend to be flattered when their advice is sought and when interest is taken in them as a person.
Before approaching a professional, learn what you can about the work they do and who they work for. Also read widely about relevant developments and current news topics affecting the news industry. Doing this will allow you to speak or write to contacts about appropriate topics and give you ideas for thought-provoking questions, ensuring that you remain memorable.
Note: don’t come across as a stalker. Keep your research to what is available on their LinkedIn profile, their employer’s website or their contributions to any industry publications. Stay away from the personal!
’I haven’t got a network – I haven’t got family in the industry or work experience’ is something TARGETjobs often hears from students. But you actually do have the makings of one. Your network can be found through:
- your lecturers: many of them were (or still are) working in the industry and many keep in contact with former students. They might be able to give you advice themselves or put you in touch with someone working in the speciality that interests you or at the company you want to work for.
- the careers adviser/placement officers for your faculty: again, they should be in touch with recruiters throughout the year and may have stayed in contact with former graduates and placement students. They should also have access to your university’s alumni database.
- your professional body: if you’ve joined a professional institution as a student (and it’s a really good idea to do so), you’ve got a lot of opportunities to network. Join discussions on LinkedIn and other social networks to connect with industry professionals. If your institution runs a group for students and recent graduates, join it and get involved with their activities. For example, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors facilitates RICS Matrics, a formal group for students and surveyors with fewer than ten years’ experience.
- visiting professors and speakers from industry: there is nothing to stop you emailing them afterwards to thank them for their talk and to ask them further questions about it. This could be the start of an ongoing conversation and relationship.
Of course, if you have done work experience in the industry, keep in contact with your line manager and any colleagues you get on well with. And if you don’t have any relatives or family friends in the industry, it’s still worth chatting to them about your job hopes. You never know whom they might know.
You are likely to have opportunities to network with professionals (from graduates to senior executives) and/or graduate recruiters at:
- careers fairs
- on-campus recruitment events and networking events arranged by your department
- off-campus careers events, such as the TARGETjobs Future Female Engineers event
- after lectures or when attending site visits arranged by your university
- at talks and networking evenings arranged by your professional body
Before you attend, see if you can gain an attendees’ list so that you can do some research.
Tips and tricks for effective networking include...
Keep your introduction simple. Maintain eye contact and smile and say something like ‘Hello, I’m Jane Smith and in my penultimate year of a civil engineering degree at Smith University.’
Keep circulating. Try to have a good number of meaningful conversations; don’t monopolise one person. Feel free to join an existing conversation – just wait for a break. If you are at a careers fair, make sure you speak to both the recruiters and the graduate employees in attendance. The graduates will probably be asked by the recruiter what their opinions are of the students they've met.
If you are an introvert focus on one person at a time and try to give yourself breaks (such as nipping to the loo).
Have something in which to store business cards in or log contact details on your phone. This will help you to follow up on your conversations. Consider having your own business cards printed.
Have good opening topics of conversation. These will partly be decided by your research but, depending on the context and the nature of the event, non-contentious opening questions include:
- How was your journey here today?
- What does your role involve?
- What projects are you working on?
- Which project have you enjoyed working on the most?
- Do you enjoy your work?
- What do you think is the biggest challenge or opportunity for the industry at the moment?
Should you bring up Brexit? If you want to ask a question about how it will affect employment prospects and you are at a careers fair, yes. Otherwise, it may be safer to wait for someone else to bring it up.
Follow up with an email or LinkedIn communication. Quite promptly afterwards – the following day is best – get in contact with the professionals you meet to say how much you enjoyed meeting them, to ask for further advice or to continue the conversation, or to gently remind them if they had promised to send information to you or similar.
When TARGETjobs’ sister publication, The Guardian UK 300 2018/19surveyed students interested in construction, civil engineering and surveying careers, it found that a massive 82% of students used LinkedIn for careers purposes – but are they (and you) using it effectively?
LinkedIn is essentially both an online forum of CVs and a way to contact recruiters and professionals. The first step is to create a compelling personal profile: follow our six steps to ensure you do. The second step is to connect with industry professionals and recruiters and to join discussions by professional institutions.
If you are sending a connecting message, don’t use the standard one. Write a short, personal one. For example, if you are connecting with a graduate employee who is an alumnus of your university, you could introduce yourself, say that they have followed the career path that you are interested in and ask if you could catch up with them about how they are finding it.
Keep in regular contact: remember, it’s an ongoing relationship so drop them a line periodically to say hello, update them on what you’re doing and to ask about what they are up to. Make sure you get the amount of contact right: you might want to send a catch-up email every few months