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From student to professional – networking at NN
It’s marvellous seeing undergraduates networking at Norfolk Network and then return in a professional capacity. Hannah volunteered on the events team for over 18 months and we were thrilled to see her return as a graduate and business analyst. Here’s her experience.
Norfolk Network gave me my very first experience of a networking event. In my first semester, of my first year at the University of East Anglia (UEA), I was given the opportunity to attend Norfolk Network to assist in making new local contacts for my Young Enterprise Award business venture.
Having never been to a networking event before, I recall being so hopelessly unprepared, and completely dazed, that you could have called it a waste of time. But it wasn’t. Now I knew what a networking event was, I knew how to do it wrong, and I saw the benefits of an event where the sole purpose is to meet new people and share ideas, experiences and business.
So, when the opportunity came in my second year of university to help out on the events team for Norfolk Network, I jumped at the idea. The chance to practice networking in a safe environment, with Lucy Marks’s support, was an opportunity that an aspiring business woman could not miss.
I agree wholeheartedly that networking is a skill. It is a combination of confidence, interpersonal skills, amicability, language fluency, emotional intelligence. And the only way to become better at it is to practise and force yourself to make the most of what, at first, are very uncomfortable and intimidating situations.
As a student, networking events are difficult. Looking back, I think that the reason is that most people at a networking event have a core reason for being there, and it is usually “to find and build new business relationships”. As a student, you don’t necessarily have a business, and my reason for being there was to improve my networking skills. Not being aligned with other delegates in terms of purpose poses a challenge. What value can a student add to someone else’s business, why would they spend time talking to you, and what would you both talk about?
In time, I realised that this did not matter. People enjoy talking about their business and how they got to where they are. So this is how I began to form relationships, and as a student it was always interesting to hear about how individuals have achieved their own success. When a conversation begins to thin out, don’t panic and try to drag it out, let it die naturally and move on to someone else. The person you are speaking to will appreciate this, and you will benefit more for speaking to a greater number of people in the room than just one or two.
Graduating from UEA I secured a great position as an Investment Analyst at Anglia Capital Group. Anglia Capital Group is a membership group of angel investors, and my role is to source and shortlist businesses in need of investment. One of the main reasons that I was selected for this role was my experience of regular networking, which is vital for the job, and I have Norfolk Network to thank for that!
Still being in Norwich I have been able to continue attending Norfolk Network events, but this time as a professional. The difference is amazing. Now having a purpose that is aligned with other people in the room (business), means that I do not have to do all of the ‘approaching’, people now choose to speak to me! I now have an aim, and what feels like a legitimate reason to be there. I am still interested in what other people do and how they got there, but I am also interested in how our businesses could perhaps overlap, and potentially be of use to each other. In general, conversations last longer as there is much more to talk about in a two-way conversation.
My advice to students would be to start networking early. Remember that no one finds it easy to start with but that the more you do it, the easier it will become. Spend time asking people about their business, how they got to where they are now – people enjoy talking about themselves. Think of how you could help potentially help them, or get involved with what they are trying to achieve. Though a lot of the time you will not be able to help, there are some occasions where perhaps you can, and this is where you will create lasting relationships, that perhaps (you never know) will benefit you in the long term.
We wish Hannah all the best in her new role.