By Bianca Thatcher IMLa
On my first day of university, our lecturer told me something that has stuck with me: “networking is the key to employability”. That was the first note I ever took down for my tertiary education, and it has stayed with me ever since.
But what does it mean?
To put it simply: sometimes it’s not what you know but who you know.
Now, that doesn’t mean what you know isn’t necessary – of course, it is. But there are thousands of other students who are graduating with the same degree and major as you. So, with that in mind, you need something to give you a competitive edge. The best way to do this is to build your employability skills through networking.
Connecting with others not only builds your network of contacts but also sharpens your soft skills (or people skills). And that’s something that potential employers will highly value.
Build your network online and offline
The first step to build your employability skills and grow your network is to start with your LinkedIn profile.
Connect with people in the same industry as you and reach out to people in similar roles to your career goals. Engage with other people’s posts and groups. Like Frigyes Karinthy says through the Six Degrees of Separation Theory, we are all only six people apart from one another. Your future employer could be a friend of a friend or a connection of a connection.
It’s just as important to make connections in real life as it is online. There are many ways to do this as a student. A very accessible and easy path is to attend networking events that your university hosts. It’s a great way to speak with industry professionals and put yourself on their radar.
Join clubs and take workshops
Joining clubs and societies is another excellent way to meet people within your industry and go along to networking nights and panel discussions should the club hold them. Connecting with other people within your field of study is also a good use of networking. They could potentially know someone looking for an employee with your skillset or even be your future employer. Don’t just join the clubs either. Get involved with the boards and committees too!
Building your skillset is an essential step in increasing your employability. What skills do you have that sets you apart from other graduates?
Completing extra-curricular workshops, whether through your institution or other professional associations (such as IML ANZ), is a great way to improve soft skills that employers particularly value. Degrees often only teach you the theory behind concepts. Until you have applied that to a real-life situation yourself, it can be hard to put your knowledge to practice. Completing short courses or workshops that offer these opportunities saves you from the disadvantage of having no tangible experience and only learning first-hand on the job.
Become a volunteer
The last few pieces of advice are to give back your time and effort to your community through volunteer programs, internships and work-integrated learning. You can get help from your education provider or sign up for initiatives yourself. Many organisations seek volunteers, especially if you live in a major city. This is a great way to help out your community, meet new people and build on skills you wouldn’t be able to in a classroom.
Finally, completing internships or work-integrated learning is ideal for building your employability skills and being employed. Not only do you get the first-hand experience for your resume, but you’ll also meet and work with people in your industry. It’ll teach you more than you ever will in a lecture theatre about your chosen career. Not to mention you’ll understand better if a job or career is truly the right fit for you. It also gives you credible references for future applications and sometimes, if you’re lucky enough, a job with that employer. However, it’s vital to make sure that they follow the Fair Work Ombudsman guidelines for work experience and internships.
Though nothing is guaranteed in life, engaging in these avenues while completing your degree will give you the edge you need. Build your employability skills and grow your network to gain the experience, knowledge and confidence you need to enter the workforce and stand out.
Bianca Thatcher is the inaugural recipient of the Eka Suputra IML Scholarship.