Careers and Entrepreneurship

Networking and social media

Find out how networking can help develop your career thinking and provide job and work experience opportunities

Networking is a good way to develop your career and look for opportunities. You can use it to:

  • find out about what a particular career or sector is like, routes in and what experience you might need
  • research specific employers, find out about the work culture and what it's like to work there
  • find work experience/internship or job opportunities

For some people, the idea of networking can be quite intimidating. This may be through lack of confidence, being uncomfortable with self-promotion or finding it hard to initiate contact with someone they don't know. 

However, by following the simple steps below, you can make networking manageable – and maybe even enjoyable. Read on for practical tips on how to network, and ways to think differently about it.

You already have a network

Start by thinking about who you might know already. Your contacts might come from: 

  • friends, family, neighbours, friends of family or family of friends
  • tutors, fellow students and Sussex alumni
  • work/volunteering colleagues (current or previous)

That's quite a lot of people already. It's easier to approach people if you have an existing connection. Try asking your current contacts whether they know anyone working in the career area which interests you. If so, ask if they can introduce you.

Start an online network 

Online networks can be great for information-seeking and making new contacts in areas you want out find out more about.

  • Join Sussex Connect, a members-only site for former and current Sussex students to connect for mentoring and networking. Great for insights and advice about different careers, although please be aware that any advice given is not moderated by the university.
  • Join Linkedin and Twitter and network with individuals or organisations.

You can find many employers on Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter and Instagram. This can be a good place to start engaging with them. Also, you can find lots of existing professional networks on social media. You can start by following and viewing interactions, and join in when you feel confident or have a relevant question.

Making contact

This is the part of the process which many people feel anxious about. But don’t worry – with the right preparation, you can make it easier and improve your chances of success. Make sure you have an introduction and opening question worked out in advance (whether you are making contact online or in person). This should cover who you are, what you want and end on a question.

Make it brief. You are not applying for a job, so you don't need to go into your skills and motivation in any depth. Think about something like:

"I'm studying xxx at Sussex and would like to know more about the xxx industry/sector. How did you get started? Can you give me any advice on routes in?" 

Try not to feel too daunted. You are not trying to sell yourself or land a job at this stage. You are doing research and asking somebody else what they think. Most people are happy to help those starting out in their career. Everyone has been at the same stage, too, so your chances are high that they will try to help.

Asking questions

Once you have made contact, the next step might be to arrange an information interview. This is where you can dig a bit deeper and find out more. Some things to remember:

  • Make it clear you are information-seeking not job-seeking. It takes the pressure off both of you
  • Ask for 10-15 minutes of their time. It's not too imposing for someone to commit to that
  • You could use telephone, Skype/Zoom or even email
  • Do some research. It will help you ask the right questions and avoid the wrong ones. Don't ask basic questions that could be answered by the company website or a quick Google

Questions to ask

Your questions might cover:

  • The work role: a typical week, main activities, priorities, skills used, working conditions
  • Career progression: how is the sector changing, what does this role lead to, what’s a typical career path?
  • Getting in: how did you get started? is it different now? Are there stepping stones to getting in? where are vacancies advertised?
  • Organisational culture: what matters to the organisation? Are there values that unite the workforce? Is there a particular ethos here?
  • Tips about how to approach employers and what style of CV to use
  • Finally, who else do you suggest I talk to? Are there websites or journals I might not have discovered yet? Can I take away any information about this organisation?

Keep in touch

Once you have had an information interview, write an email to thank them. You could also remind them of anything they said they would do in your meeting, and reiterate your interests and skills.

It is also good to keep in touch every few months, to update people on how you are doing. You can also ask for advice occasionally. In this way you can develop a mentoring relationship, whereby they are invested in your future, too. Keep them posted when you get an interview or find a job. They will be happy for you. You may even be able to do them a favour in return once you have launched your new career.

One of the important things to remember about networking is that it's not a one-way street. It's about building relationships and nurturing them.

Keep building the network.