Traditional networking may have been halted in light of the current pandemic, but that doesn’t mean that digital networking isn’t a viable option. In the new remote world, businesses, researchers and students alike have swiftly adapted and are using various digital platforms to connect, network and upskill.
This blog will be discussing in-depth the experiences of running digital events, the benefits and challenges of networking in the age of Covid from the perspective of our wide range of student societies.
Tell us about your society and the importance of networking to your activities and society initiatives?
As AIESEC in Aberdeen, we provide internship and volunteering opportunities abroad. The pandemic has impacted our operations and daily activities, as we're no longer able to send students of the University of Aberdeen abroad on these opportunities. However, we understand that, during this situation, young graduates need internships or jobs more than ever, which is why we continue to provide virtual internships, as well as long-term internships in countries that are safe. Our members are working hard to create these opportunities for the youth of Aberdeen, and while doing so, they gain experience working in a corporate environment, developing professional skills in fields of their interest, and gaining transferable skills.
Aberdeen University Consulting Group is a society that aims to prepare students for a management consulting career and beyond. The society offers two programmes: a career-focused programme that runs weekly and consists of case study workshops, industry talks and mini case competition; and a competition programme to which we have selected 15 students to prepare them for regional and international case competitions. Networking is quite important to us as we would like to create long-lasting connections with all our members in order to increase the outreach of the society and develop our programmes even more. Therefore, after every weekly session, it is a tradition for us to reserve one hour after the event just for casual discussions with our members.
Intern Network is a society that focuses on helping students to achieve internships and spring weeks in Finance, Business, and related sectors. We offer a variety of initiatives such as employability workshops, a mentorship programme and CV surgeries. The society was founded to connect students and help each other to achieve success. Therefore, networking is crucial for our development, especially for our workshops in which we would like to attract as many attendees as possible, but also for our mentorship programme in which we are aiming to strongly connect our mentees with their mentors.
The Economics and Business Society was founded to provide students with a safe space to learn, grow, and network with both peers and employers. So yes, networking has always played a central role in our society and it still does, now more than ever! The current restrictions to face-to-face interactions left us no choice but hosting all our events online. Nevertheless, whether it is a social or academic event, students still have the opportunity to meet new members of the society. Committee members are always keen on answering any questions members may have or simply have a chat with them. At EBS, we are trying to provide students with friendly faces they can talk to and an extra layer of support beyond academic staff, which we think everyone would benefit from in these unprecedented times!
The Aberdeen Business Entrepreneurship Society is built on the foundation of ambition, hard work, and creativity. We focus on developing certain areas of students personal developments – idea generation, business building, collaboration, and teamwork. Networking, so building relationships with likeminded people, is one of the most important entrepreneurial skills.
How much has Covid affected the way you network and run society events?
At AIESEC we have had to move completely to a virtual environment. Now, instead of socials and meetings, we host team-building sessions online and video calls. While before we focused on teaching our members about physical marketing and hosting marketing stalls and events around campus, now we are exploring the world of digital marketing and allowing our members to experiment with graphic design and different social media channels. Moreover, we're able to practice sales online instead of attending networking events.
COVID has affected the way we at Intern Network are running our programmes because we had to plan everything online. Our employability workshops were held on Microsoft Teams, however, we still managed to obtain great attendance and run them efficiently. In terms of the mentorship programme, some of the students involved in the programme are not in Aberdeen, therefore the mentors chose to connect and communicate with their mentees through social media platforms, as it is safer and more effective.
Covid has inevitably changed the format of our events, which are all running online for the time being. It has changed the way EBS strives to achieve its mission but not the mission itself! At EBS we are trying our best to keep providing our members with opportunities to build a meaningful network of students and professionals that will hopefully facilitate them in entering the job market. During our past couple of events with our sponsor Ernst and Young and our industry partner Gartner UK, members had the opportunity to network with the Student Recruiters of both companies and got invaluable insights about how to be successful in their application process.
This year ABES aims to supplement growth when it comes to entrepreneurial skills, by setting up competitions, talks, and workshops usually held on Teams due to the Covid. The events that we host is our way of keeping our name known during the current social climate that we are experiencing.
What are the pros and cons you have found with running digital networking events?
With everyone in the AIESEC teams located in different parts of the world, as well as experiencing different forms of uncertainty, it has been a challenge to find times where everyone is able to meet. Moreover, we are still working on how to provide an experience as close to our regular socials as possible, to ensure the team is able to bond and have fun. Technical difficulties have been probably the hardest however, as we all know internet connection can be unstable. On the other hand, digital is the future, and our team is learning quickly, not only about hosting online sessions but even conferences and workshops that allow people to talk in smaller teams
At AUCG we believe digital networking has made it is much easier to connect with students that are not necessarily from our university, but also with students that are studying abroad, attendees are more active in the sessions and as we record our events and share them with the members that cannot attend everyone has the chance to get full access to our programmes. However, with everything being held virtually the con is some events can be interrupted due to technical issues and it is much harder to catch the attention of the attendees, thus learning is less effective in some cases.
For our society, COVID has shown that running events online was not as impossible as we might have thought. We found some great benefits from online events. The most important one for Intern Network was the fact that we were able to connect with students and speakers from all around the world. For example, we held a successful Linkedin workshop with Morgan Hammer who is the Relationship Manager for Linkedin United States. However, we must recognise the drawbacks of digital events as well. One of the most prominent hurdles was the fact that we were not able to be as practical as we have planned. Practicality is key, especially when developing essential employability skills such as team building and leadership, however, digital events are not the best when wanting to apply practical activities.
We all miss a proper pub crawl or academic event on our beautiful campus, but online events have proven to be an invaluable tool to increase the accessibility of our events. Members can join us from all over the world and our resources can be easily accessed at any time on our website. Another pro is the possibility to involve, with a simple click, international speakers in our online events. Finally, a major con is technical issues but the more online events we host, the more we become familiar with the new networking technologies which seem to be here to stay.
There are some definite pros of having each event online. Primarily, as a part of Scottish Entrepreneurship Network ABES host multiple events online, when students from 4 universities can become team members or participate in workshops with people from all around the world – that’s amazing who can you connect to from your room. The biggest obstacle of running digital networking events is that the connections made are less powerful because it is still something that everyone is trying to get used to.
What advice would you have for students looking to connect with industry experts and expand their employability skills during Covid?
I would say LinkedIn is the most effective way to connect with industry experts, as well as connecting with different business societies that are able to host workshops and sessions with these professionals. In AIESEC in Aberdeen, we are proud of our network of alumni, who are always willing to provide professional training to our members after having found companies and gained experience in the field.
COVID created a much more competitive market for graduates and not only, especially in the consulting sector where it was already very hard to achieve opportunities. However, we at AUCG think that there are a couple steps that the students can take to be prepared for future challenges. Enrol in online courses, especially the ones that are crucial for the job you are applying to. Learn a programming language like Python, which is highly wished-for by most employers nowadays. Also if you are interested in consulting, you will need to develop your problem – solving skills, hence, prepare yourself for case interviews by exercising as many case studies as possible.
COVID is affecting the entire labour market, but students should be prepared to successfully achieve their desired career. Therefore, in terms of our advice at Intern Network, we think that the best way to improve your employability skills is to engage in extracurricular activities that will develop your leadership, time-management, team building and many other skills. Therefore, join societies or get implicated with charities that you are interested in and show your motivation through these activities. Develop your technical skills by learning a programming language, network with industry experts from the companies you would like to apply for by attending their events and finally build your Linkedin profile and start connecting with people to find out more about the industry you are applying for.
At EBS we like to see the positive side of everything! The positive side of Covid is that we all have some extra time to dedicate to our self- and professional development and what a better way to do so than attending EBS networking events? Covid has changed the rules of the game but the game is still on so, do not give up on networking with industry experts just yet! Now, more than ever, it is crucial to keep building your industry network and show employers that even in challenging times you are committed to building your career path! We would suggest you work on your LinkedIn profile so that you can confidently add industry professionals and student recruiters you met at our online events.
We at ABES are still trying our best to help people improve students maximum potential when it comes to employability skills by teaching them the essentials, and connecting them to industry experts like ABVentureZone and the Business School.