The UKSEDS Guide to Online Networking and Events
Networking is a crucial skill in developing your career, and along with events and conferences, has recently become much more online-centric. Find out how to adapt and hone your online networking skills here!
Networking in an Online Space
Networking is one of the most important skills to master in your journey in finding a career in any sector, including in space. Making connections with people in the industry that you want to work in is a great way to meet people in your field, have interesting conversations, and broaden your understanding of the work that actually takes place!
However, online networking can pose new challenges, even for the most seasoned in-person networker. How can you get the conversation started? What do you say to sell your skills, but without bragging? And how can you do all of this at online events, that may seem daunting at first? Read on to hear our top tips for getting the most out of online networking, and conferences like our very own National Student Space Conference.
In our increasingly online lives, it is tempting to try and attend two talks, or even two separate events at the same time. While this may seem like a great life-hack at first, it’s usually better avoided. Choose an event that you know will be interesting for you, based on your interests, studies, and preferences. Although events like NSSC are an amazing way to find out about new and exciting fields of work, if you know you won’t enjoy a talk, it’s probably not worth attending - prioritise those events which you think will be most interesting and beneficial for you.
Additionally, avoiding screen fatigue is incredibly important. When you’ve decided which event you want to attend, think about making a list of ‘musts’ - talks or segments that you definitely don’t want to miss. Allow yourself to take breaks away from the screen between these, and view the rest of the event as an optional extra. Planning your day like this can help keep you engaged and motivated - this is key when attending online events.
It’s also worth finding out beforehand if an event will be recorded and available to watch at a later date - if this is the case, you’ll probably feel more reassured when taking breaks, and can catch up later on if necessary. You can listen to segments that you missed at a later date, if you’re unable to attend them on the day!
What to do before the conference?
Researching the speakers and events that you’re attending beforehand is an excellent idea. This will give you some context to the subject, especially if it is more unfamiliar to you, and will allow you to learn more from what is actually being said. In addition, it’s worth coming up with some questions that you have about the topic - whether related to the career path you’re interested in, or maybe even a technical question for an expert. If these questions aren’t answered in the talk, most speakers will be happy to take questions from the audience afterwards, and you’ll be well prepared. Asking these questions can be a great way to introduce yourself to speakers, panelists, and other attendees - something which may otherwise be difficult to do.
Another thing to bear in mind is your online presence outside of the event. If you’re planning to introduce yourself to people who may be interested in you as a potential candidate for a job, they can easily find your LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, or any other social media accounts. Make sure these are up to date with your latest employment, education and accomplishments, and more importantly ensure that any publicly viewable accounts appear appropriate and professional. For more on this, read on to the ‘LinkedIn’ section of this article.
Getting the ball rolling
So how can you actually get the conversation going? As previously mentioned, asking questions is a great way to open up a discussion with someone. Don’t be afraid of asking something that you feel is obvious - if you’re wondering about it, chances are someone else in the audience is wondering too!
In a more informal networking situation, like a conference slack, or discord sessions, a polite introduction with a name exchange can make a great impression - for example "Hi my name is ___ and I am interested in __". If you’ve researched someone’s work - tell them what you liked and how it inspired you. After an initial introduction, leave the ball in their court for a little while. This will allow you to gauge their mood and continue the conversation according to their tone.
Although tone over text or video is a little different than in person, someone’s language choices, formality, and depth of response can be good indicators of their interest. However - don’t overthink it! Many people have different ways of communicating online, and as long as you remain polite and enthusiastic, the correct message should get across. React to questions with seriousness and intellect, but try to avoid sounding too forced. This is easier said than done, but practise makes perfect! Your first time approaching someone will probably feel daunting, which is normal. Take the gamble and push through the nerves - you’ll soon start to feel more comfortable.
Be an active participant
In online events, maintaining focus can be challenging. If you’re using an online video platform, turning on your camera can help you stay engaged, and show the speaker that you’re actively listening. Feel free to take notes, but try not to allow this to take over when you’re listening. Your main focus should be on what is being said.
Many events will provide closed captions from a dedicated team of professional captionists. These are essential for those who require captions, and can also be useful for those who may struggle with audio communication for long periods of time. If you feel that this will improve your overall experience, check if you are able to turn on subtitles! At NSSC 2021, captions will be available for all conference sessions.
When networking, many of us have a tendency to formulate our next response to someone, without actually listening to everything they have to say. If you find this happening, pause and allow someone to finish before thinking about how to reply straight away. This could avoid any repetition, and allow for a smoother, more efficient conversation for both of you. If the exchange is over a text based chat, make sure they’ve finished typing before you begin! Additionally, if more than one person is partaking in a video call, consider using the ‘raise hand’ feature to organise the discussion flow.
After the event
Events like NSSC are a great catalyst for further networking, which currently takes the form of online communication. After attending an online event, you may have a better idea of the industry it was discussing, what jobs in the field may look like, and even identify some people whose career path you would like to see yourself following. These can even be names that you can cite as inspiration in a covering letter! You’ll most likely have lots of new ideas, and our advice is to make sure you write them down! It’s useful to make a list of some the following:
- Professionals who work in a role that you are interested in
- Organisations who do work that inspires you
- Educational opportunities you’re considering
- Tips and tricks that speakers have given
- Facts or topics that you’d like to find more about
- Anything else that you don’t want to forget!
A great way to follow this up is to do your own further research after the conference. For example, you could look up people on LinkedIn, visit a company’s webpage to find out about their vacancies, or check out a job profile on SpaceCareers.uk for more insight into a role that you’ve learned about.
LinkedIn - your gateway to a professional network online
The following section is adapted from NSSC introductory talk on LinkedIn by Jodie Howlett.
In order to uphold the good impression that you make at an event, having a great profile on LinkedIn is key. This can be done by populating as many profile sections as you can with information, including a photo and background reflecting your professional interests, and making use of the profile strength prompts. Keep your ‘About’ section relevant and concise, and under ‘Experience’, describe the organisations you have worked for as well as the role. Include achievements, and any links that will give potential employers more information about roles.
Under ‘Education’ , you should include your thesis title, overall grade, and any awards that you’ve gained. If you’re still studying, modules relevant to current jobs are a good indication of your technical competencies. Furthermore, if you’re a member of any relevant organisations, or have volunteer experience (both of these are possible through UKSEDS!) be sure to mention this in your profile. This kind of experience can really set you apart from other candidates!
Once you have a complete profile, you should begin to build your network. Add people you already know, like friends or peers and any professional contacts, in addition to reaching out to new people. These may be people that are studying in the same field as you, or who have done things in their career which interest you. If you’ve met someone elsewhere, keep in touch! For example, sending the following message on LinkedIn after NSSC would be a good starting point:
Hi Dr. Proxima,
It was great to meet you at NSSC this weekend. I really loved our discussion about exoplanets following your talk. I would love to keep in touch.
If you’re actively seeking employment, it’s always a good idea to add your LinkedIn to your CV. To find relevant opportunities, join groups and follow companies that you’d like to work for. This will tailor your feed to provide you with information that may be useful to discover in your job search.
Overall, LinkedIn is a powerful tool that you can truly use to your advantage when networking online, and many skills you learn by using it will be applicable in job applications, networking on other online platforms, and eventually, connecting in-person!
So, before you go forth use your new found online networking skills, here are some general tips, which are good to bear in mind.
- Be polite and professional
- Send personalised invitations
- Add attachments to your profile sections
- Keep profile up to date
- Spam your connections
- Expect instantaneous replies
- Share offensive or unprofessional content
- Overload your profile with text.
NSSC 2021 is taking place online on the 6th and 7th March, and you can register for a ticket here, for free. We hope to see you there!