Studying abroad is not only a great chance to pursue your academic studies, but an opportunity to build a network of diverse contacts and mentors to help kickstart your graduate career.
This can be done through contacting university alumni now working in positions you’re interested in or attending on-campus career fairs and networking events.
You can also ask around your academic department, careers service and relevant clubs and societies to see if they can introduce you to someone who may be able to offer you career advice and even work opportunities.
Networking is a skill, and like any skill you get better with practice. Here are some dos and don’ts for networking, according to graduate careers experts.
To get the most out of contacts, first you need to know yourself and your own goals.
“Having a valuable conversation about your career path means knowing yourself and connecting with people who might spark curiosity or help you find answers to your questions” says Karla Gouthro, director of career exploration and education at the University of Toronto.
“Consider what you hope to achieve from a career conversation. Start with a clear understanding of yourself in terms of your interests, values, skills and goals,” she adds.
For international students, it may also be worth reaching out to contacts who also studied internationally, are from the same home country, or are currently working in the destination you’re hoping to build a career.
In an increasingly globalised workforce, it’s useful to express what sets you apart from the crowd when connecting to people who share similar experiences and professional journeys to the one you’re on.
You also need to have an idea of your future ambitions. Ask yourself what you’re hoping to gain from a networking conversation, what your long-term career goals are and what you need help with to get there. This will help narrow down your search for people to reach out to, and ensure you’re contacting the most relevant people possible.
“Work out in advance of a meeting what you really want from it and whether the contact is in a position to provide what you’re after” suggests Catherine Alexander, careers consultant at the University of Cambridge Careers Service. “A contact is more likely to give you their time if they know why you want it.”
Do your research
“I can’t overemphasise the value of research into the organisation and industry you’re applying to,” says Beka Kimberley, careers consultant at the University of Cambridge Careers Service. “Keep an eye on industry news and social media. What genuinely captures your interest and makes you want to find out more?”
Keeping up to date with the field you want to go into will also help you give the best impression to anyone you connect with.
As well as keeping abreast of the industry generally, it’s also vital to research individual contacts thoroughly before reaching out. This will help you clarify exactly why you are reaching out to them.
Do you have anything in common that you could bring up to help you stand out from other students? Are you from the same country, did they study your course or belong to the same university societies as you when they were a student?
“Get clear on what you are most interested in with respect to your mentor or connections’ career journey,” advises Karla. “For example, perspectives on how they made big career decisions, how their industry is changing and insights about how their organisation approaches recruitment.”
While there have been many disruptions to international education and graduate careers during the pandemic, one upside is that virtual networking is far more common. Professionals everywhere are now used to connecting through online tools, making it easier than ever before to meet remotely.
For international students, this means that you can always think globally when it comes to networking, no matter where you are located. With more and more work experience being completed remotely, networking with companies around the globe may well result in a virtual internship that can be completed from anywhere.
Kate Moore, founder of the Global Career Center and former co-chair of the Global Internship Conference, also suggests making the most of social media to build your global network. “LinkedIn is more than an online resume,” she says. “Join groups related to your professional interests. Read and comment on relevant articles and include a note that links back to an article or group or shared connection when asking a new contact to connect.”
Just ask for a job
There’s so much more that you can get out of a network rather than just a job offer. Tapping into your network also helps you to learn from the experiences, stories, and insights of others.
“Your contact probably isn’t in a recruitment position anyway,” confirms Catherine Alexander. “If you’re interested in working for their organisation make it clear it’s just insights you’re after, not a job. If they’re impressed by you the conversation might go in that direction anyway.”
Aside from asking about work, there are many other useful questions to ask people in your network. “Find your favourite question for networking” suggests Kate Moore , “This could be… which podcast or newsletter should you never miss? Or…what skill do all recent graduates need? Perhaps…where will the company be in one year?”
Let them forget you
If you’ve had a useful conversation, be sure to stay in touch with your contact. Add them on LinkedIn to keep up with what they’re doing and vice versa.
Another proactive way to ensure regular contact is to create a spreadsheet of all your contacts. In this spreadsheet you can add in where you met the person, their contact details, how they may be useful to you in your career development and when you last spoke to them. By keeping a record of the last date you spoke, you can then know who you need to check in with soon to keep your relationship strong.
If it’s been a while since you last spoke to a contact you’re keen to stay in touch with, send them an email to update them on your work. Have you gained any more experience since you last spoke? Got some more detailed questions for them? Keeping in touch regularly will help you stick in the mind of your contacts, which could pay off later.
What are the best ways to build and maintain a network? Here are some top tips from graduate careers experts