How to Network
Networking events are everywhere, but taking full advantage of them can be tricky. What do you say to get the conversation started? How do you sell your skills without bragging?
The art of making people like you. This is one of the most simple, potentially interesting and least stressful parts of increasing your career possibilities. It is as simple as talking to people.
During events with potential employers get out there and talk to them, by being at the event you show you are interested in the events field by talking to them you show you are interested in their field, their activities and hopefully you might get across that they might be interested in you.
A polite introduction with a name exchange might make a difference, a simple "Hi my name is ___ and I am interested in __" might prompt the other person to introduce themselves and respond to your question. Being polite, learning their name and getting your name out there whilst putting the ball in their court whilst they answer your question will give you time to judge their current mood/personality and better react to the conversation.
Everyone is different, this is a bit of a problem with networking, you need to judge peoples attitude and how best to approach them. Some people are very welcoming and talkative but then again these people might attract the most potential candidates so it is harder to stand out. With these people you need to ask intellectual questions and provide your profile whilst not being "that person that wouldn't leave me alone".
At the other end of the spectrum you will find people who come across as potentially cold or unapproachable, for all you know this could just be a screening process to find the right candidates if not they might just appreciate someone talking to them if they've not talked to anyone, after all it is easier to stand out when there is no opposition. Take the gamble, use the same approach as before judging their character, react to their questions and try to convey a reasonable level of seriousness and intellect whilst avoiding the conversation feeling too forced.
Ask the right questions
Walking up to a stand and asking what they do might not give off the right impression, if you are attending an event and know some of the companies attending do a little research and find out what they do. If you can find out some innovative project they are working on and ask them a genuinely interesting and well thought out question you might just show you may be made of the right stuff to work with them.
This is a subtle and tricky art, if you can lead them into asking questions about you then well done, but don't walk up and give them your life story. Small impressive chunks of your career so far can carry a huge impact in building up a good impression, try to keep it relevant and impressive. If they forget your name but somehow remember some obscure fact about you during the application process it might just save your CV from the bin.
I find that as students we flock to the free stuff, as a rule of thumb don't go grabbing for it when you leave as you might come across as just wanting to grab a hefty bag of goodies at the event. If they offer you a freebie take it politely, it might be a hint that they have come to the end of their conversation with you. Express thanks for the conversation and interest in the company/positions available again getting noticed for the right reasons might help get you a job. Asking for business cards and email addresses is a good tactic for having a contact at the company when making an application if you have a question you can pose it to them and potentially refresh their memory of you it might help in an interview if they remember you.
Don't be too heavy handed at wine receptions, you do not want to make a bad impression that would ruin all of your hard work. More casual networking also helps to develop people opinions of you, stick to light topics for the most part unless they introduce heavy hitting discussions. They are probably as stressed out as you are and might want relaxed chatting about seemingly mundane topics. This is a chance to build their opinion as a person and not just an intellectual, talking about hobbies and broader experiences might help them remember you or relate to you.
An important rule of thumb is trying to keep it natural and not to force conversation.