Do young people think networking is equivalent to nagging?

Whenever I talk about the Hidden Job Market, a heated discussion divides people into two opposing camps. There are those who believe that the majority of jobs are not advertised, (hence they are ‘hidden’) and those who believe that the hidden job market simply does not exist.

Despite their dispute both camps agree that within the current job market networking is a crucial skill that allows one to expand and tap into various networks which in turn can open doors to previously unavailable resources and opportunities.

The concept of networking with its established powers is crucial for everything from job hunting to starting a business, yet it often seems not to be absorbed by young people. Last week, I had the chance to engage with 90 young people, aged 16-19 in the workshops I was delivering. Their stage of career development varied widely; some had just finished their A-levels, some GCSEs, while others were in College attending various vocational courses.

Before introducing them to the debate on the hidden job market, I asked each group two simple questions:

Who here has a LinkedIn profile?

Who here has ever attended a networking event?

I was shocked with the results!

Only one person stated having a LinkedIn profile and only two people had been to a networking event before!

When I then asked “Why is that?” most young people admitted that:

  • they are looking for part-time jobs and work experience placements but they had never thought of just asking around the people they know or contacting potential employers directly
  • they see networking as nagging someone which can be seen as highly unprofessional
  • talking to strangers is terrifying and they would not be happy to attend a networking event even if it would lead to a potential job opportunity

This small number of people is of course not representative of the entire youth population but I found it fascinating that even with the boom of social media and the concept of online networking so widely spread, young people do not seem to think of using these tools to their professional advantage.

In order to address this issue then and there, for the rest of the workshop we concentrated on developing their networking skills with the use of 3 simple exercises.

  • Draw your network 

I asked each student to draw a simple diagram of their network with such categories as my friends & family, my friends’ family, my family’s friends, and random people I know. For each person I asked them to state their professional status and marked people who may help them with any career opportunities. It was great to see that the young people were shocked at the discovery that they all have someone in their network that can help them with their professional development!

After they identified people they could approach for advice or a potential lead, we moved on to the next task- writing their elevator pitch.

  • Write your elevator pitch

The idea of meeting a person who can change your career in the elevator might be quite exaggerated but the concept of being able to summarize our experience and career dreams is a very useful tool when it comes to networking. For me the best professional pitch is structured around 3 questions:

  • Who are you? Are you a recent graduate or an experienced graphic designer?
  • What are your skills & experience? In other words, what are your unique selling points?
  • What are you looking for? What is that you are interested in? A part-time job or a work experience placement? Which industry are you aiming for?

To be honest, the young people did struggle with this exercise. Some of them simply did not feel they had anything worth saying about their experience, while others wrote a 2 page long personal statement! But with a bit of encouragement and lots of trail and error, each of them managed to write something they were satisfied with.

After writing their elevator pitch, the time came to practice it during a “fake” networking event.

  • Practice your networking skills

The best way to gain networking skills is to simply go and network. There are plenty of networking groups around that should fit anyone’s taste but in order to simulate a networking environment in the classroom, we tried networking bingo. The rules behind this game are exactly the same as for people bingo but with one twist: before asking someone questions to complete your bingo, you first need to shake their hand, introduce yourself and say some things about you.

This one was great fun as young people love to mingle. They really enjoyed it but were not convinced that a networking event could be so much fun. In the end you are talking to strangers!

By the end of the workshop I felt I had achieved my aim of shifting the young people’s perspective by at least an inch! I hope that they all will remember that:

The people you spend time with shape the person you are today and the person you aspire to be tomorrow (‘Start-up of You’ by R. Hoffman & B.Casnocha)

It is definitely worth networking.