​The dreaded 'networking event' – we've all been there, you walk into a room full of complete strangers and have to talk about yourself.  

But it doesn't have to be awkward and intimidating. Networking is all about building professional relationships that are mutually beneficial. 

Our resident career expert, Blair Slater, from UNSW Careers and Employment, says it's important to have a game plan to know what you want to achieve.

 Here are some of his top tips to get the most out of any networking opportunity.

You're all in the same boat

To make things less intimidating, remind yourself that everybody is there for the same reason.

"Establishing relationships is often what intimidates people the most at a professional networking event," Slater said.

"They are networking events for that very reason, that people are there to network, so I encourage students not to feel too intimidated. If they've been invited, the expectation is that they will network and speak to people."

Divide and conquer

It's all too easy to fall into the trap of speaking to people you already know at a networking event.

According to the career expert, breaking out of your comfort zone is key to meeting new people and expanding your network.

"Don't go with someone and stick with them in a buddy system. If you do go with someone, divide and conquer," Slater said.

"You don't want to seem as though you're always dependent upon someone else."

Three is the magic number

 According to Slater, groups of three are much more approachable and tend to have conversations where you can easily join in.

"Look for groups of three friendly looking people and simply go up to them and say, 'Do you mind if I join you?'," Slater said.  

"Often, starting off with a question is a little bit of an easier way in as opposed to going straight in and saying, 'Hi, I'm Blair'."

It's all in the NAME

The NAME (Name, Association, Motivation, Enquiry) acronym can help structure your conversations and remind you of key talking points.

"First you would go in and say your name, and could then ask, 'How are you associated with this event, how did you get invited to this event, or do you know someone?'," Slater said.  

 "The M is asking, 'What is your motivation for attending?' You could say, 'I'm a third-year economics student and I'm interested in hearing more about particular insights in economics because I'm starting to look for a position in policy work'."

 "The E stands for enquiry, enquire about the other person and get the other person speaking. Some of the best ways of making a favourable impression at a networking event is actually saying very little and having the other person talking about themselves."

 Patience is a virtue

Networking is all about building relationships over time. If you've just met someone, they're unlikely to want to offer you a job straight away.

"I would not ask for a job at a networking function, the whole idea there is to establish the relationship," Slater said.

"Opening the door to potentially follow up with someone is the goal for networking not necessarily to land a job right then and there."

Perfect your elevator pitch  

Talking about your selling points is important, but it needs to come across naturally in conversation – avoid the car salesman pitch.

"One of the biggest mistakes I've seen students do is they go for the information dump. They just tell everything about themselves feeling as though that's the only opportunity they have to sell themselves again," Slater said.

"The key focus is establishing the relationship. If you have a good interaction initially you'll no doubt have a follow up conversation and you can brag about yourself then."

Close with a lead

Wrapping up the conversation is the most important part of finalising a new connection.

 "You could repeat something they said, 'I find that really interesting. I'm glad we've met, would I be able to connect with you in the future?'," Slater said.

 "There could be potential to connect with them on LinkedIn, you may ask whether you could have a business card but don't be afraid to say, 'That was really nice getting to know you, I'm looking forward to staying connected.'"

 Pick a card

A business card is an effective way to share your contact details and show your interest in establishing a connection.

"I think it's a really nice professional thing to have, it's also a way of leaving a favourable impression on the people that you meet," Slater said.

 "The business card can have your name on it, your email, your LinkedIn profile and what you're studying."

 "Don't expect everyone to take it and don't expect everyone to have a business card to provide to you. But it is a nice thing to have."

 UNSW Business School provides opportunities in networking, mentoring, internships and global experiences through Career Accelerator