Networking is a challenging but necessary activity. Nicola Slawson breaks down what she has learned about networking since first becoming a journalist.

When I first started out in journalism, I felt this urgency to grab any opportunity that came my way with both hands. I had dreamt of making it happen for so many years but it had taken me longer than most people to pluck up the courage to try. I didn’t start out in journalism until I was 29 in fact, despite knowing I wanted to be a journalist from a very young age.

Perhaps it was because of this that I went to every single journalism event that I could get to during my first year of being a very junior journalist. I went to talks, panel discussions, networking drinks and documentary screenings. I lapped up the knowledge and I felt starstruck when seeing top correspondents whose words I had poured over in real life. 

While at times the imposter syndrome was so bad, I practically clung to the walls, at other events it almost had the opposite effect. I was so out of place that it made me feel brazen and gave me a f*ck-it attitude. What did I have to lose by marching up to a senior journalist who I probably would never try and get a job from anyway and saying hello?

My first London PressClub event springs to mind when I was faced with three managing editors from national newspapers and decided to talk to them about trust in the media. While I can’t say they took me all that seriously, I know they were impressed by my gumption and I’m still on first name terms with one of them as I have seen him at so many events over the years. While he has never given me a job, it has been helpful to have a friendly face to say hello to in a roomful of strangers. Being greeted by the managing editor of a top publication when you walk in a room does also tend to impress. 

Later when I did my first week’s work experience, I began to realise that actually there is a lot more to networking than milling around a stuffy room with a tepid wine clutched in my hand. Networking can be defined as the activity of meeting people who might be useful to know, especially in your job. When you network, you exchange information and develop professional or social contacts. It can be internal (within the company you work for) or external (with people outside your organisation). I like to think of it simply as making friends because it really does take the pressure off.

Lots of people find networking difficult or cringe-worthy, but it doesn’t have to be. Networking is also something introverts can do and enjoy if they think outside the box. It can be as simple as commenting under the Instagram post of a journalist you admire or going for coffee with an editor one-on-one or maybe joining a WhatsApp group for black journalists, for example. And on the latter, I do know that at least one does exist – there really are Whatsapp groups, Slack workspaces and Facebook groups for everything these days. If you don’t find one that appeals, why not start your own? I would love to see a group for young journalists who are just starting out being set up. (Editors note: a group for young journalists has actually been set up in recent days and a separate group for women of colour in the media was set up today.)

What is the point of networking?

You might be wondering what the point of networking with people like you is? This is my other golden rule. Never forget your peers or those just one step ahead of you. They might not have the glittering career or the accolades but they are the ones who know exactly what it’s like when you’re trying to break in. Some of the best journalism advice I’ve ever been given has been from people on the same level or just one rung up the ladder from me. They will also be the ones to share when a job comes up in their organisation or who will commission you if they end up in an editor role.

The most important thing to think about is your mindset. If you go to an event or join a group and have a positive attitude and are curious and interested in who you might meet or what you might learn, you will get a lot more out of it than if you go in thinking networking is all phoney and awful and anxiety-inducing. The other way you can adjust your attitude is to think of networking as a way you can give as much or even more than you get from it. I always try to be generous with my time and advice and support. I do this because I remember the difference it made when I was starting out when people helped me but of course, often good deeds roll back around and the person you helped might end up helping you in the future. And even when you are starting out, there are still things you can offer.

Even something as small as shouting about a great article you read and tagging the journalist can go a long way. Firstly, they are more likely to remember your name if you ever need to contact them in the future and secondly it will make your social media feeds a lot more interesting if you are sharing good journalism rather than solely using it to promote yourself. My top tip for doing this is to always be authentic. Only share what you actually think is good, and don’t go too OTT with the praise or people might think you’re being fake. 

My final piece of advice is to remember that everyone you meet has an interesting story to tell. So in any situation, whether that is a traditional networking event or something more informal or even digital, your goal shouldn’t be to meet as many people as possible or to only speak to the most important people in the room, it should just be to have fun, be curious, speak to whoever you like and don’t take it all too seriously. 

For more tips and advice, you can watch my masterclass on the art of networking down below.

Resources mentioned by Nicola:

This amazing Ted Talk by Amy Cuddy who looks at how your body language can help boost your confidence.

The Second Source group created by female journalists for female journalists to help tackle harassment faced by women in the media.

This great read from the Harvard Business Review about learning to love networking.

This blog is part of PressPad Remotea programme of activities to support aspiring journalists during the pandemic. Be sure to keep up to date with PressPad by subscribing to our newsletter here