How to Network Effectively
When my internship at the Writers’ Centre Norwich (WCN) finished, I didn’t know what to do next. I wasn’t sure if I should have pushed for a job, asked for more experience, or expected the staff to direct me towards another internship elsewhere.
I had been in their office two half-days a week for the past seven months, supporting the programme team with various tasks to help prepare for upcoming festivals, and it felt strange to walk out for the last time. During my internship, I felt productive. Now that it was over, I didn’t know what I could do to feel productive again.
Life After Interning
What I didn't know was that my internship was not the final bookend to my CV-worthy experience. It was the gateway. Being a part of the WCN team meant I got my foot in the door and had the chance to network. I was quite intimidated by the idea of networking because it’s become such a well-known and encouraged strategy, that just getting to know someone in the office could seem insincere. I didn’t want colleagues or partners of the organisation to think that I was only speaking to them in hope of getting a work placement. But that’s exactly what happened.
During my internship, I helped out at the annual International Literature Showcase (ILS) which brought together members of the creative industries for a series of discussions, readings, and collaboration workshops. I met people who worked for internationally-acclaimed magazines, multimedia theatre companies, and poetry foundations.
One of the delegates worked for Literature Wales, a literary organisation based in Cardiff. As I escorted her to a venue, I asked about what she did and what a typical day at her job looked like. I wasn’t looking for an internship or a job. I wasn’t even thinking about that. I just genuinely wanted to know about her role at an organisation similar to WCN.
Talk to your Advisors
An advisor at my university’s career centre once suggested that I research people whose positions in a company I admire, contact them, and meet them for coffee to ask about their work.
‘Don’t ask them about available internships,’ the advisor said. ‘Don’t even bring it up. Just ask about what they do.’ When I followed that line of advice at the ILS, I built relationships with the delegates. I knew about their organisations, what their positions involved, how they got there. Once they saw I was giving them my attention, they promoted their organisations as though trying to recruit me to their industry. They knew I was interested in the arts but also that I was still exploring its various career paths.
After learning that I was an American in England, one man told me about how his cookery publishing company led him to travel to the world. A professor of creative writing at a university in China described the curriculum to me and asked about my creative writing course to see how it compared. All the delegates were passionate about the arts so it wasn’t hard to find similar interests.
Don't be afraid to approach people
At the end of the festival, I made sure to say goodbye to each delegate that I met. When I approached the delegate from Literature Wales, she handed me her card and told me that they offered work placements. I couldn’t believe this was another opportunity. I pictured myself emailing her and hearing no reply. It felt too convenient. I pocketed her card, told her that it was lovely to meet her, and made my exit.
A month or two after my WCN internship, when I grew tired of twiddling my thumbs, I unearthed her card and sent her an email. I said how it was nice to meet her and that I was interested in any available work placements. She replied soon after and got me in correspondence with another work colleague who eventually asked for my CV and cover letter. I researched the organisation, tailored my CV to it, wrote a cover letter, and sent it with crossed fingers. My application gave way to a phone interview which was a success. I had earned myself another internship.
This was the spring of 2015. Literature Wales was booked up with interns for the summer holiday so we arranged for the next year. Now I have less than a week to go before I start. It will be a month-long work placement. I can hardly believe that it’s going to happen. If I had never approached that delegate, I would not have this internship. Just speaking to her and getting to know her as a person made all the difference.
I’ve learnt that networking does not have to be a premeditated strategy. It doesn’t have to be impressing someone or selling yourself. All you need are interpersonal skills and a genuine interest in what a person does. It’s what we do every day when we meet new people and ask about them. Not only does it show that you’re interested, but it’s a shadow of how you would develop relationships with fellow colleagues. Just be friendly, down-to-earth, and the right employer will notice.
Rachel Sammons is in her final year at the University of East Anglia, studying English Literature and Creative Writing. She has an interest in arts administration and volunteered for many local festivals. As an American in England, Rachel is always up for adventure and trying new things. She co-writes the blog, One, not Two.