Networking and your Personal Brand.

There is a lot of information out there about ensuring you network effectively. I wanted to present some of the issues international students may face and propose practical ways to overcome these difficulties. However, firstly I want to talk about the importance of “Personal Branding” in all your networking endeavours.

Why Network?

Networking can be so useful in supporting your future career. It can be used to:

  • Gain careers advice and sift through potential options.
  • Obtain a realistic picture of a profession.
  • Understand an organisation’s culture and whether you are a good match for this.
  • Open up opportunities for personal development.
  • Provide introductions to useful contacts.
  • Build mutually beneficial relationships, perhaps creating a coach or mentor.

Networking is not about asking for a job! Instead it is a chance to make connections, have useful conversations, gain insights and to build your on-going relationships.

Before you start networking

It’s really important to understand your own “Personal Brand”, prior to undertaking any networking activity. Tom Peters first coined this phrase in his 1997 article “A brand called you”. This article emphasised the importance of being able to promote ourselves professionally, clearly and confidently. He said:

“Regardless of our age, position or the business we happen to be in, all of us need to understand the importance of branding. We are CEOs of our own companies. Our most important job is to be Head of Marketing for the brand called you!”

This emphasises the need to firstly understand and then confidently promote ourselves to the world around us.

In order to do this you need to understand what is unique about you. A useful video resource to help with this is “Creating your Personal Brand” by Lida Citroen (2015). Lida explains that a Brand is an “expectation of an experience” and personal branding is about how we make people “feel” about being around or working with us. With this in mind the intention is to create a positive feeling from others based on our interactions with them. This could be through producing an excellent piece of work ahead of time for example or doing something for another person with no expectation of reciprocation.

To start this process of personal branding, firstly we should stop and take stock. We need to take an inventory of our skills, experience and interests. This could involve asking ourselves questions like: Where do I want to be? What inspires me? What is unique about my experiences so far? What are my talents and skills? What skills do I need to work on?

As an international student one major advantage you have is your increased cultural awareness and possibly your ability to speak different languages. There will be other unique qualities you have too!

You can also understand how you are currently seen by others through requesting 360 degree feedback. Be open to this honest feedback from people who you currently interact with on a regular basis and then start to think about how you want to be seen by others.

Once you have answers for the above, you can start to build a strategy to take you to where you want to be. This will involve building influence with others through your actions.

Lida explains that “Credibility” (which you need to build your personal brand) comes from understanding and having a clear set of values and acting on these to increase your personal influence.

Credibility = Values + Action

You can then define your target audience. These can be broken down in to three categories but each of these can be equally useful in the longer term:

Decision Makers – Those who make hiring decisions or have a decision making role within businesses.

Information sources – Those who have insights and information about a role, organisation or specialism. They can add value to your existing knowledge base.

Supporters – Those who support and encourage you. They may be known as a “critical friend”. They could be an official or unofficial mentor/coach.

Remember

Networking is about creating win-win situations, therefore it is important that where you can you offer support and help to those you need help from. Be genuine and build your personal brand around your real strengths this will ensure you are authentic which in turn should ensure your networking is meaningful and long lasting.

Challenges for International students

International students often face challenges when approaching networking for the first time. Some common challenges have been addressed below:

  • I’m not from the UK and therefore I have no established networks in UK industry

Every university in the UK has a Careers Service which all have strong links with industry partners across the UK and beyond. This means that you don’t need to already have an established network in the UK. There are a range of activities you can get involved with to ensure you can build a wide range of contacts in multiple industries. Here are some examples:

Most Universities offer mentoring schemes with former students, now Alumni, who offer their time to support you in developing your network and career. Some will be working in the roles you will want to undertake so can be really invaluable contacts. Contact your careers service to find out more about this. Most University careers services will host employer events during term time each week to provide industry and recruitment insights. This is a great way to network, ask questions and connect with people who are wanting to hire students and graduates.

  • I’m not used to the formalities involved in UK business and industry so I’m afraid I’ll make a mistake in dealing with new people.

Most university Careers Services across the UK provide events to support you in how to network effectively and at careers fairs, staff are on hand to talk you through appropriate behaviour and etiquette if you are unsure.

  • I’m not an extravert so speaking to strangers just doesn’t feel natural and I just don’t know what to say.

Everyone is in the same position as you and although some people may be naturally extravert people or come from a much more extravert culture, there are ways you can increase your confidence. Seek out support from your Careers Service. They will help you to create an “Elevator Pitch” to clearly, concisely and confidently present yourself to others. They may be able to talk you through UK customs and culture in order to help you feel more confident in speaking to potential employers or business connections.

  • I don’t see the point in networking, I just want a job.

Generally, networking undertaken by students, is done to increase their chances of gaining employment. However, stating this outright when you meet a new connection can make people less inclined to help you. Networking is about creating “win-win” situations. This means creating mutually beneficial relationships where you can help each other. Rather than seeing networking as a way to get a job, instead try to ensure you understand the business or the role you are wanting to work in. Being helpful to people can help to create a good impression, supporting others whilst also gaining invaluable experiences which you can later draw from perhaps in interviews or in your CV. You may even be able to use this connection as a reference in the future and it could lead on to more useful contacts which could eventually lead you into the perfect role.

What do employers want?

I recently asked a range of high profile employers to explain what they felt demonstrated “good networking” skills. Here are their responses:

“Making a good first impression is really important. One way you can achieve this is through networking. Proactively engaging with employers on campus, at their office, or through your online profile not only means you’ll learn more about their opportunities, but you may also get the chance to meet your future colleagues. At fairs make sure you give a firm handshake, ask questions and demonstrate positive body language such as eye contact’’. From Charlotte Robertson, Student Recruitment, PwC

“Something we really look for is a student that has prepared in advance of the event, either by reading up on the companies attending via the promotional literature, or even just googling them in advance to research whether it’s definitely a company they would like to learn more about or apply to. Also somebody that comes over and introduces themselves and shakes hand always goes down well.” From Harriett Cormack, CEB Global

Article written for the Midlands International Group by Teresa Corcoran – Postgraduate Careers Consultant (Business School) at the University of Nottingham, 26 June 2017. This blog follows on from an earlier blog about networking by my colleague Ben Simkins who is a Careers Adviser at Keele University (Link to Ben’s blog: Here ).

References

Citroen, Lida “Creating your Personal Brand” (2015) Link: Here

Peters, Tom “A brand called you!”(1997) Link: https://www.fastcompany.com/28905/brand-called-you

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