For some people, it’s the hardest part of journalism. For others, it’s the easiest. But whichever applies to you, networking remains a pretty stubborn feature of breaking into the industry and getting scoops.
Don’t get me wrong. You could spend your life wading through documents in a dark room and never have to physically interact with another soul – all while still being a brilliant journalist.
But if you want to get your foot in the door of those notoriously hard to enter jobs, or you find yourself in a patch where contacts can help you build your stories, you’ll at some point have to bite the bullet and network.
Before we get started, it’s worth giving a disclosure here – I quite like networking. I’m an extrovert and would (especially after a glass of wine or two) quite happily sidle up to anyone for a chat.
But there are days when the anxiety kicks in and I feel like nothing could be worse than putting myself out there in front of strangers.
And having talked to others who also feel that way, here’s a whistle-stop guide to pulling it out of the bag – even when you couldn’t think of anything worse.
Finding The Right Places To Network
First up, you need to find yourself some events where you’ll be rubbing shoulders with the right person – usually you’re looking for someone who can help give you a job or find you stories.
A good first start is to join as many Facebook groups as you can – start with journalist Facebook groups such as the Student Publication Association, Hack Drinks, and Northern Freelance Journalists. There are plenty more about, you just need to type in the right keywords.
You’ll also find plenty of newsletters and Twitter accounts which will keep you in the loop too. Cision runs a daily update, for example, and we try to include a range of events in our newsletter.
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This aside, you should also look at university event calendars, with many offering free invites, as well as delving into the world of Meetup.com.
After a while you’ll find yourself building up a good base of places, which hopefully also lead you to other forums of shuffling journos.
Working Out The Approach That Works For You
So, you’ve found the event, now what? You might find it easier to bring a mate with you. Ideally one interested in journalism, but it’s really not a deal breaker – they’re essentially there to be your emotional support dog.
I did (and still do) this with my best friend when I’m going to some events, because it’s easier to approach people in pairs, and gives you someone to talk to when everyone else is in a closed off huddle.
If you are going by yourself, get there early. There will be less of you there and people will be more likely to gravitate towards each other.
Also this means you get the best pick of the freebies. No one wants to have to settle for a lukewarm soda water when there was an ice cold beer on offer at the start.
If you’re really nervous about going alone, check out if there’s a public list of people going. Follow them on Twitter and they’ll be more chance you’ll know what to chat about, as you’ll have some conversations starters to hand.
Taking The Plunge And Talking
There’s no hard and fast way of actually striking the conversation up, but there are some general principles I try to follow.
Firstly, it’s easier to go up to smaller groups rather than bigger ones. People usually appreciate humility and honesty. Saying you’re new and are there alone, and that you hope they don’t mind if you introduce yourself is no bad thing.
If they’re nice, as in my experience, they’ll look after you and then you’ve got a good base to go back to later in the night.
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If you try this and aren’t getting any luck, ask the event organiser who else is in the room, if there’s anyone you should talk to particularly, and if they wouldn’t mind giving you an introduction. It’s often easier if someone else is breaking the ice for you.
In terms of the actual chat, tell them enough about yourself to pique their interest, but make sure you’re not overwhelming them – no one likes someone who comes over to only drone on about themselves.
Try and find common connections – where you grew up, what journalists or editors you like, whether you studied in a similar place, or why you came this evening.
People love to find relationships and rapport with others, so focus on what you’ve got in common and remember that you’re all at the same event for a reason. There must be something!
A friend of mine always makes sure they’re asking open questions, so people don’t have the option of giving you a ‘yes’ or ‘no’. For example, asking them what they found most useful at the event, or what the biggest challenge of their job is.
The main thing is to be genuinely interested in people because they’re people – not be that person who is clearly looking for someone to help them out.
If you do have the bad luck of sidling up to someone boring, sexist, creepy, or otherwise, it’s best to move swiftly on.
Make an excuse – such as getting another drink or going to the toilet – and say goodbye in a way that means they won’t expect you to return. A simple “enjoy the rest of the event” or “have a nice evening” will do.
I used to suffer a lot of self-interested idiots, which is the worst part of networking. It’s up to you how much to tolerate this – and some people are more worth it than others.
Nailing The Real Reason You’re At The Event
While a few free drinks are no bad thing, you’re at this event for a reason. So, make sure you achieve a couple of key things.
Firstly, come armed with business cards, or at the very least a phone, so you can look new people up on Twitter and follow them straight away.
But remember, it’s all well and good giving your details out, but what’s much more precious is getting theirs. Let’s face it – if they’re super senior or have got a tonne of cards by the end of the night, they’re not going to proactively reach out to you.
Instead, aim to leave having made a solid number of connections. This could be by taking their card, noting down their details, or connecting on LinkedIn or Twitter – basically you want a direct route of contact after the event.
Without sounding too much like your mum, you also probably don’t want to get too drunk on the free wine. You don’t want to leave any accidental bad impressions and you want to remember key things to follow up on.
Even drinking aside though, it’s probably worth making notes on your phone anyway, just so you don’t forget.
And, when you’re leaving, if you did build up a rapport with someone, feel free to cement the connection by saying goodbye, or catching their eye and waving.
It’s polite and will help them remember you when you get in touch later on.
And Then To What Comes Next…
First off, congratulations – you’ve done ‘a networking’!
If it was an evening event, as a general rule it’s best to wait until the following morning to catch up with people. This is partly to be polite (no one wants midnight texts from strangers) but mostly because you don’t want your email to have fallen into the inbox abyss by the time they fire them up.
Don’t let any kind of hangover deter you though. An early contact is key – you’re still fresh in their mind and you want to get in before any of the other pesky people in the room fire off a message asking for a coffee / work experience / a job.
A short and simple message normally does the trick. My usual spiel goes along the lines of:
Good morning [insert name here],
Aubrey Allegretti here. It was a pleasure to meet you last night at [insert event here]. I’m just getting in touch so you’ve got all my contact details – and to ask if you’re about during the next few weeks for a proper chat over a coffee / what work experience opportunities you have / more about a job I’ve seen advertised with the company [delete as appropriate].
I’d be very grateful for your time.
All the best,
Of course, it goes without saying you should have all your contact details in your email signature. If you don’t hear back after a week, give them a nudge. If their card included a mobile number, a cheeky text or WhatsApp is also fine. Completed it mate.
When You Can’t Go To Events
But what if face-to-face networking events really aren’t your thing? Or maybe where your location or other circumstances mean it just isn’t possible. Have no fear, you can still network.
Start by following a tonne of journalists, charities, and interesting personalities tweeting about the things you’re interested in – then start getting involved yourself.
Share things you’ve read, small analysis thoughts, retweets, and engage in conversations with people.
Sell yourself in your Twitter bio, and pop in a few keywords about the things or places you cover or are interested in. You won’t get millions of followers overnight, but everyone starts somewhere.
Engaging with other journalists will make you feel part of the community, and lend you more authenticity as they start to follow you back – and remember there’s no shame is asking people to follow you back so you can DM them about some advice or a coffee.
In fact, someone I spoke to for this very article told me they got their first internship through “mere interactions with a fashion editor at a glossy”.
And, if they can do it, so can you.
This article was produced with the support of Cision Jobs, the leading journalism jobs board. Visit them here to find hundreds of journalism jobs live right now.