If you are going to university, it is likely that you will attend a corporate networking event at some point. Whether you want to form connections with your dream employer, find out about a specific company or industry, or simply go because that’s what all of your friends seem to be doing, these events can be useful, but also somewhat overwhelming. What do people actually do at these events? Who should I talk to and what should I talk about? In this article, I will provide you with some practical advice based on my personal experience attending and organising countless corporate recruitment events at Oxford University.
There are different types of corporate events that involve networking, such as company presentations, workshops, and dinner or drinks events. While some events may have a formal part in the beginning or in between, the networking more or less always looks the same – you grab a drink or a bite to eat, gather around some employees, and try to engage in a conversation. After a while you move on and try to get to know another person. Some people despise this sort of event – after all, it’s only meaningless small talk, isn’t it? Actually, it doesn’t have to be. If you know what you are doing, you can benefit from attending such events and may even find them enjoyable.
First of all, you need to decide what you want to get out of the event. For specific questions concerning your application, it is often useful to talk to the recruitment team. They will not only answer your questions, but may even give you exclusive tips on how to stand out as an applicant. However, often the answers you receive may not be any different from the material presented on the company’s website – so why waste your time at the networking event if you can read through the FAQ much faster?
If you have already browsed the careers website and think that you know most basic facts about the firm as well as the recruitment process, I would advise you to talk to some of the employees in the area you are interested in. They can give you what no amount of research can: a personal narrative. Find out what they personally value about the company’s culture. That way, you can understand the work atmosphere better and simultaneously get a perfect guideline for your cover letter – after all, identifying with the corporate culture as presented by employees is a great reason to choose this firm over any other. Ask company representatives about their day-to-day work and their favourite (or least favourite) projects. Getting an impression of what the work at this firm is like will help you decide whether you want to work there, but it also makes for a good conversation starter if you would like to dig deeper. The more in-depth the conversation becomes, the more memorable it will be for the employee – which only has advantages for you. Sending a follow-up email asking another question about your conversation is also a good idea to make yourself noticed.
You have to keep in mind though: quality is better than quantity. Contrary to popular belief, a networking event is not a competition to see who can collect the most business cards. Having an interesting conversation with one employee followed by an email or LinkedIn exchange is worth much more than a brief chat with ten employees, consisting only of standard questions. Personally, I have stayed in touch with several people I met at university networking events and received useful advice on my applications as well as personal recommendations that got me to the interview stage.
Likewise, networking events can also help you meet fellow students with similar interests. Don’t forget about this aspect – these people may well help you prepare for interviews or tell you about their experience with recruitment processes that you have not gone through yet. After all, a networking event is supposed to be useful for everyone attending. So don’t be nervous – as long as you know what you want to get out of it, it will definitely help you progress your career in one way or another.
Max Kulaga is a finalist reading Economics and Management at the University of Oxford. As a former intern at L.E.K. Consulting in London and President of one of Oxford’s largest business societies, the German-born is keen on sharing his experiences and knowledge about the consulting industry.