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The art of making and using contacts

The idea of networking is to approach your own existing contacts, or contacts of people you know, for help and advice. Every time you make a new helpful contact you then tap into their network and get introductions to a new range of contacts. Through this method you gradually build up a large list of people who can help you. The ability to use contacts for discovering opportunities and helping you make decisions, (i.e. networking) is one of the most important skills you can develop and one which will have lifetime benefits. When you are jobseeking, networking can help you find out about industries and organisations you are interested in. This knowledge, in turn, can also increase your choices of success during the recruitment process. You don't have to have friends in high places to be able to network - you can learn to do this effectively even if you think you have no useful contacts at all.

Using social media
What help can contacts provide?
Creating a list of contacts
Making effective use of contacts
How not to annoy contacts
Safety first

Using social media

Discover how to use social media in your job search:


Try out the networking game created by Edinburgh University Careers Service

Debut have also produced a student guide to networking

What help can contacts provide?

Helping you to see what a job is really like

Questioning someone about the job they do should give you a better idea of what is involved and whether you would like this work. Your contact may also be able to organise some work shadowing (i.e. unpaid work observation) for you. It might also be possible to talk with people in more senior positions to get an idea of career progression. Work shadowing might also lead to work experience or even a job.

Helping you in preparing to look for work

You can get your contacts to :

  • Outline the range of jobs within their field and the level of competition for them.
  • Look through your CV, suggesting improvements.
  • Advise you on other skills or experience that you need.
  • Recommend other sources of information and advice, including their own contacts.

Helping you to research firms you are applying to

Contacts can be invaluable in giving you insight into the activities, culture and history of their company.

Helping you to find a job

Your contacts may be able to :

  • Tell you which papers and agencies to use for vacancies.
  • Give ideas of firms to apply to.
  • Let you know about openings within their firm.

When you first make contact, however, ask for information and advice - NOT for a job.

Creating a list of contacts

Start with contacts you already have

You may not realise it, but it is likely that you already belong to many useful networks. Obvious examples are -

  • Your family, friends and neighbours.
  • The university, school and colleges you have attended.
  • Clubs and societies that you've belonged to.
  • Places that you have worked.
  • Your parents' or partner's network of friends.

It is likely that the contacts that will be easiest to make and most helpful to you will already have some link with you, however slight. Start your list here.

Develop contacts from scratch

There are many other people with no connection to you at all who may be able to offer you advice. Those most likely to be helpful are people whose job role involves providing help and advice.

Professional Bodies are a good starting point - they often employ information officers and training advisers who can provide you with lots of useful information. They may publish careers information and a directory of members. They may also have a local branch that you can join, or a network of regional advisers. For help in identifying appropriate bodies, use the Directory of the Professions or look at our I want to work in ... pages, which list professional bodies for each area of employment.

Courses and events are a good way of meeting people who could give you advice e.g.

PwC have produced a brief guide to engaging with employers at these kinds of events

Other sources of contacts - if you are a creative person you'll be able to think up lots of other ways of making contacts. Here are two methods that have been used successfully:

  • Identify adverts for jobs you would ultimately like to aim for (but don't feel currently qualified for) - contact the employer for advice on how to get into this type of work.
  • Identify experts on your chosen career through articles they have written or talks they've given - contact them for advice.

Making effective use of contacts

To be successful, you will need to plan your networking campaign at every stage of the process and keep good records of all that you've done.

Set yourself objectives for your networking

Before you start contacting people for help, decide what you want to get out of your networking campaign.

Research each contact, their role and their organisation, before making an approach

You will impress a contact more at a first meeting if you already have some relevant knowledge. If you have found out about a contact through someone you know, then you should be able to get some background information on the individual. You will be able to do some preliminary research on the career area and company either by using the resources of the Careers Service or by searching the internet (e.g. the company's web site; Prospects).

Prepare a list of questions for each discussion

Here are some questions to start with. You should also try to think of some questions of your own.

This article suggests 7 questions to ask at informational interviews 

Think how to approach each of your contacts

You'll have to find a method of approaching contacts that works for you and adapt this to each situation. Some points to consider:

  • A particular method of approach may be acceptable to one contact yet not to another.
  • The better you know someone, the more informal you can be in your approach to them.
  • The better your communication skills the more success you will have with direct approaches.
  • Some contacts may respond better to a telephone call than to a letter or email. However, it is possible to combine a written approach with a telephone approach, e.g. you can send/email each contact a copy of your CV to introduce yourself and explain what help and advice you are looking for, followed up with a phone call.
  • Before you telephone a contact, write down what you are going to say and keep this by you. Make sure to check that it is a convenient time. If it is not, make an arrangement to call back.
  • After each discussion, note any action points and be sure to follow them up.
  • Remember to write to each contact to thank them for their help and you never know when you might come across them again so you want to have made a good impression!

How not to annoy contacts

Nobody likes to be bothered by nuisance calls or junk mail. Here are some tips for making sure you don't come across like an unwanted double glazing salesperson!

  • Start with contacts who have a fairly direct link to you - they're more likely to want to help.
  • Only approach people whose name you have.
  • Explain how you got the contact and outline the help you need.
  • Always ask initially for "help and advice" NOT for a job.
  • Don't be too pushy ... but you will need a bit of confidence.
  • Read this blog from Warwick Careers Service

Safety first

Because most networking involves meeting with people that you know something about, personal safety is not normally an issue. However, you should try to get a personal introduction to each new contact you make. If you are meeting with a complete stranger then to protect yourself you should -

  • Meet in a public place.
  • Tell someone where you are going and with whom.
  • Avoid getting into a car.
  • Walk away from any situation that makes you uncomfortable, after making a polite apology.
  • Use your common sense!

Thanks to the University of Derby Career Development Centre whose materials have been used and adapted in this networking section.