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Networking tips for students

Top networking tips for student civil engineers, quantity surveyors and construction managers

Networking can make your search for graduate jobs and internships easier – it’s a skill that construction professionals use all the time.

Follow up with an email or LinkedIn message.

Networking tips and tricks: Be confident | Vital research | Build a network | Face-to-face networking | Online networking | Maintaining relationships

TARGETjobs frequently asks graduates working in the construction industry about how they started their careers and ‘via networking’ is the increasingly common answer. Others say they wish they’d networked more while at university. Here are a few stories of successful networking:

  • Ashley Dunsmore, a quantity surveyor at Kier Group, used LinkedIn to contact professionals and through that got invited to conferences, internships and a graduate job offer (see below for her tips).
  • Tori Shepherd is an assistant design manager at Kier Group: ‘I got both my work experience places through talking to people,’ she says. ‘My first placement was with Ross Thain & Co. Ltd, a small architectural practice. It just so happened that I went to buy a dog from Ross and I got chatting to him about my course. He said that I should email him if I wanted any work experience. I did and he offered me two weeks. After this, I bumped into a family friend who told me that she worked for Kier and kindly gave me the contact details for the head of design. I emailed him and we had a phone conversation to work out whether the placement was suitable.’ This week’s work experience turned into a summer internship, which turned into a job offer.
  • One graduate said that it’d boosted her job chances when her CV had been recommended to the graduate recruitment team by one of the managers who worked there.
  • One explained how her company often earmarked the CVs of the students who’d impressed them at careers fairs.

The majority of these graduates didn’t come from incredibly well-connected families; they created their own networks. This is how you can do the same.

A networking tip for before you start: be confident in what you have to offer

Networking is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as ‘interacting with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts’. This networking definition suggests that it isn’t about using someone as a way into a job – it’s about creating an ongoing relationship with people as you go through your career. You will want to start not by asking them directly whether they know of any vacancies, but by asking them for careers advice or their opinion on the industry.

Be confident when asking. You might feel that you haven’t much to offer your contacts now, but in time you will have. Remember, too, that people tend to be flattered when their advice is sought and when interest is taken in them as a person.

A networking tip for before contacting professionals for the first time

Before approaching a professional, learn what you can about the work they do and who they work for. Also read widely about relevant developments and current news topics affecting the news industry. Doing this will allow you to speak or write to contacts about appropriate topics and give you ideas for thought-provoking questions, ensuring that you remain memorable.

Note: don’t come across as a stalker. Keep your research to what is available on their LinkedIn profile, their employer’s website or their contributions to any industry publications. Stay away from the personal!

How to create a network when you don’t think you have one

’I haven’t got a network – I haven’t got family in the industry or work experience’ is something TARGETjobs often hears from students. But you actually do have the makings of one. Your network can be found through:

  • your lecturers: many of them were (or still are) working in the industry and many keep in contact with former students. They might be able to give you advice themselves or put you in touch with someone working in the speciality that interests you or at the company you want to work for.
  • the careers adviser/placement officers for your faculty: again, they should be in touch with recruiters throughout the year and may have stayed in contact with former graduates and placement students. They should also have access to your university’s alumni database.
  • your professional body: if you’ve joined a professional institution as a student (and it’s a really good idea to do so), you’ve got a lot of opportunities to network. Join discussions on LinkedIn and other social networks to connect with industry professionals. If your institution runs a group for students and recent graduates, join it and get involved with their activities. For example, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors facilitates RICS Matrics, a formal group for students and surveyors with fewer than ten years’ experience.
  • visiting professors and speakers from industry: there is nothing to stop you emailing them afterwards to thank them for their talk and to ask them further questions about it. This could be the start of an ongoing conversation and relationship.

Of course, if you have done work experience in the industry, keep in contact with your line manager and any colleagues you get on well with. And if you don’t have any relatives or family friends in the industry, it’s still worth chatting to them about your job hopes. You never know whom they might know.

How to network with construction professionals and recruiters face to face

You are likely to have opportunities to network with professionals (from graduates to senior executives) and/or graduate recruiters at:

  • careers fairs
  • on-campus recruitment events and networking events arranged by your department
  • off-campus careers events, such as the TARGETjobs Future Female Engineers event
  • after lectures or when attending site visits arranged by your university
  • at talks and networking evenings arranged by your professional body

Before you attend, see if you can gain an attendees’ list so that you can do some research.

Tips and tricks for effective networking include...

Keep your introduction simple. Maintain eye contact and smile and say something like ‘Hello, I’m Jane Smith and in my penultimate year of a civil engineering degree at Smith University.’

Keep circulating. Try to have a good number of meaningful conversations; don’t monopolise one person. Feel free to join an existing conversation – just wait for a break. If you are at a careers fair, make sure you speak to both the recruiters and the graduate employees in attendance. The graduates will probably be asked by the recruiter what their opinions are of the students they've met.

If you are an introvert focus on one person at a time and try to give yourself breaks (such as nipping to the loo).

Have something in which to store business cards in or log contact details on your phone. This will help you to follow up on your conversations. Consider having your own business cards printed.

Have good opening topics of conversation. These will partly be decided by your research but, depending on the context and the nature of the event, non-contentious opening questions include:

  • How was your journey here today?
  • What does your role involve?
  • What projects are you working on?
  • Which project have you enjoyed working on the most?
  • Do you enjoy your work?
  • What do you think is the biggest challenge or opportunity for the industry at the moment?

Should you bring up Brexit? If you want to ask a question about how it will affect employment prospects and you are at a careers fair, yes. Otherwise, it may be safer to wait for someone else to bring it up.

Follow up with an email or LinkedIn communication. Quite promptly afterwards – the following day is best – get in contact with the professionals you meet to say how much you enjoyed meeting them, to ask for further advice or to continue the conversation, or to gently remind them if they had promised to send information to you or similar.

How to network online

When TARGETjobs’ sister publication, the UK 300 2019/20 surveyed students interested in construction, civil engineering and surveying careers, it found that a massive 86% of students used LinkedIn for careers purposes – but are they (and you) using it effectively?

LinkedIn is essentially both an online forum of CVs and a way to contact recruiters and professionals. The first step is to create a compelling personal profile: follow our six steps to ensure you do. The second step is to connect with industry professionals and recruiters and to join discussions by professional institutions.

‘To get my work experience placements, I spent a lot of time on LinkedIn,’ says Ashley Dunsmore, a quantity surveyor at Kier. ‘I searched for “surveyors”, “commercial directors”, “construction in Dundee and Glasgow” and for anyone connected with the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS). Then I would message them to ask for their advice and whether they knew of anybody offering work experience. ‘ It was successful: ‘Muirfield Contracts actually contacted me to ask if I was interested in a placement. The Muirfield recruiter had asked one of my contacts whether they could recommend a placement student and they’d put my name forward,’ she recalls.

If you are sending a connecting message, don’t use the standard one. Write a short, personal one. For example, if you are connecting with a graduate employee who is an alumnus of your university, you could introduce yourself, say that they have followed the career path that you are interested in and ask if you could catch up with them about how they are finding it.

A networking tip: how to create an ongoing relationship

Keep in regular contact: remember, it’s an ongoing relationship so drop them a line periodically to say hello, update them on what you’re doing and to ask about what they are up to. Make sure you get the amount of contact right: you might want to send a catch-up email every few months.

Oh, and don’t forget to say thank you! Everyone likes to feel appreciated.