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National Careers Week - How to get ahead in your industry

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If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times - getting experience and making contacts in your industry is equally as important (and sometimes more so) than getting your degree. It all depends on the kind of job you want to get.

People talk a lot about 'networking' to meet the right people. However, let's be honest... it's kind of awkward and requires a lot of confidence, especially if you're new to it!

Some industries really do rely on knowing the right people though - especially those which deal primarily in people (makes sense, doesn't it!). So, if you're hoping to work in PR, Marketing, Freelancing, Music, Film, something similar - or even a combination of some of the above - you might want to pay attention!

When I was a student hoping to break into the music industry, I wish I had appreciated the importance of networking a little bit more. I had managed to get some promo jobs at venues - it was awesome, and I really enjoyed it. To me, it was a chance to make friends, see bands for free, and enjoy a party lifestyle whilst handing out a few flyers. I wish I had appreciated back then how valuable the people at these venues were across a range of areas including promoting and booking gigs, music PR, marketing and management, too. If I had pulled myself away from the bar, I might have picked up a few more skills, been introduced to more of the 'right' people, and gained respect much quicker.

I'm at the point now where I've got some great contacts and I do bits here and there in the music industry in addition to being a freelancer, but it's all about timing. I do regret not getting things done a lot quicker, but I'm also glad I had some fun! 

It's all about balance. If you know someone influential is going to be somewhere you'll be, act professional, make an effort, and try to stand out (for the right reasons). Sometimes networking takes place in the most unexpected places, not just at organised events. If you're lucky to meet someone 'important' in your field whilst out and about, be brave and start a conversation. Don't interrupt anything important, but if you're just at a bar or something, maybe strike something up. A lot of it is common sense - talking about work in a social setting can be tedious, but if you appear bright and engaged, you'll have more chances. Just be interesting and be yourself - find something the person might genuinely want to talk about, and go with it! It's unbelievable how many people I've met in social situations who I've ended up finding work from!

Experience is also so important. You'll get ahead of the pack by getting as much as you can! Don't just wait for work experience programmes to be advertised to you. Be proactive. Contact people politely to ask if they need any help. Look online for opportunities. Ask around your existing contacts. Create opportunities for yourself where there are none. You'll be surprised what you can come up with if you just think outside the box.

You'd also probably be surprised to see what kinds of experience can help you get ahead. It's not all about fancy internships! Your job in a restaurant or a shop can show dedication, people skills and organisation, for example. Alternatively, a well-managed Instagram account or blog can demonstrate your social media marketing skills or perhaps photography and writing talents. Sometimes little and seemingly insignificant tasks that are vaguely in your industry of interest can make all the difference.

If you know you could do something you love for a living, prove it. There may well be obstacles in the way, but if you demonstrate passion, talent and drive, you're halfway there. Compile evidence and remember - it's not what you know, it's who you know. If you don't know anybody, ensure to change that this year. Get a great reputation in what you do, and hopefully everything else will follow!

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