A network, ‘…an association of individuals having a common interest, formed to provide mutual assistance.’ In the context of a career, the ability to develop and maintain networks is a valuable skill that can create opportunities and provide the insight to inform your career decisions.
You may not even be aware of this, but you will already have a network. It consists of former employers you may have worked for, colleagues, friends and family. You will also potentially develop a diverse network at university with a variety of other students, building relationships that may prove to be mutually beneficial during your career . Networks can be effective if you adopt a proactive and professional approach to developing these connections – even more so if you have clear objectives and realistic expectations. University of Warwick alumni Nalini Adele Pinto describes how the network she built through her determination and resilience created a valuable work experience opportunity.
“As a student keen to make the most of my experience at Warwick, I decided to explore beyond the campus map and found my way to the Venture Centre. I introduced myself to a member of the reception staff, explaining why I had come to Warwick and the course I was pursuing, and asked him whether he could tell me more about the Centre. He referred me to the Project Manager from the Business Support Services – whilst waiting for him I noticed a board with the different companies housed and the range was phenomenal!
I expressed an interest in a part-time job to enhance my experience at Warwick. He was quite impressed as he mentioned that I was one out of 23,000 students who made their way to the Science Park and showed interest in the work going on there. He handed over his business card and asked me to get back to him over the Easter Holidays for a work experience opportunity.
I decided to keep in touch with him, firstly thanking him for taking the time out to meet me and also updating him over the Spring term about my progress with my business modules of my Biotechnology, Bioprocessing and Business Management course.
I understood from various workshops at the Student Careers and Skills Service that employers seek students with enthusiasm. I decided build my profile and soon achieved the Warwick Skills Portfolio Award. As Spring term was nearing, I decided to learn more about the different Science Park companies through their websites and short-listed a few I was keen to learn more about.
It proved difficult to meet the Project Manager during term time so I decided to approach my personal tutor and ask her about the companies. She realised that our Head of Department (HoD) knew someone from one of the companies! I kept meeting up with the HoD over the next few weeks, showing him my eagerness to gain work experience, and he indicted that my proactive nature would definitely get me far. He soon managed to set up a meeting for me with Director of a leading molecular pathology lab for a potential internship in Autumn, after I finished my dissertation. That was the best lead!
I was still keen however on getting some experience before Autumn, so in the meantime I kept the Project Manager updated on my progress in my business modules and my eagerness to gain experience in the Science Park. As I approached the Easter vacation and nearly losing hope, I received an email him indicating that he had been seeking clearance from HR and the University to take me on a voluntary work experience project with the Business Support Services! I am glad to say that I successfully completed a 4-week work internship. What’s more, after completing the internship the Project Manager had interacted with the Director that I had met earlier and recommended me. Before I reached my dissertation defense I was offered a full-time lab position – the networking had led a to positive and unexpected outcome!
When I reflect on my experience of developing a network, perseverance and enthusiasm were very important factors in my success. Moreover, tailoring your skills to the different areas that are open to you can enable employers to match your skill set and see potential for you in their work space. It may not be the most relevant experience in terms of your ultimate career goal but any experience is valuable because the skills you can gain are so transferable. The contacts in your network may also give you guidance on how to seek further opportunities and may introduce and recommend you to other professionals in their networks. And this is the best way to get started on expanding your network!“