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The Art of Networking at Wenona

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Our Year 10 students have been learning the art of networking. After all, research shows your network is your net worth!

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Before our Year 10 students headed off on their work experience placements last week, Director of Opportunity and Career Education Ms McFetridge, invited PR and Communications Consultant, Ms Catriona Dixon (Thornton, 1988) along to give them a networking masterclass. 

Catriona, who is mum to Sophie in Year 10 and Molly in Year 11, explained that “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.” Put simply, you need to prepare for success!

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Drawing on her background as a successful journalist and her work with organisations like Uber, Coca Cola, Ikea and Woolworths, Catriona talked to the students about the importance of developing their own personal brand, which will help to prepare them for life beyond Wenona.

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She asked the students to reflect on the following questions: How much do you know about your employer for your work experience placement? Have you thought up some questions to ask? Have you contacted your employer to confirm your placement? Have you worked out how you are going to get there on your first day, so you can arrive on time?

Catriona had plenty of practical tips too. For example, don’t eat the complimentary lollies in Reception or you risk having a mouthful of Minties when the CEO arrives to greet you! Resist the urge to do your Snapchat streaks and keep your phone in your bag, so that you can actively listen, engage and make the most of your opportunity. Show plenty of initiative. This might mean wiping down tables, washing up coffee cups or helping to carry furniture, but your enthusiasm and can-do attitude will get you noticed.

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Body language, inflection and tone are also important. “Stand at ease like a soldier,” said Catriona. “Make eye contact and never be the first to look away.” And as for those redundant words we all like to use, well… if you want to like network like successfully, you should like avoid like using redundant words! The word ‘like’ is commonly used as a filter; it delays you expressing an actual idea. So be succinct! Be intelligent!

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Catriona also advised the students to look the part. “It shows you are interested in the role because you’ve put time and effort into researching the company.” She advised minimal makeup and jewellery, and to err on the side of caution with their dress: nude pumps, a blazer and skirts just above the knee, shirts done up to mid-chest or higher.

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Most importantly, at the end of your work experience placement remember to say thank you. Don’t skip the courteous thank you email or LinkedIn request. Follow up and leave an impression with a personal touch.

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“The best way to predict your future is to create it,” said Catriona. “Position yourself for success. Think about how you want your employer to remember you and use this to start your career.”

Armed with this incredibly useful knowledge, our Year 10 students then headed off to their work experience placements across Sydney and regional New South Wales and even Melbourne. They went to work with leading architects, vets, physios, accountants, law chambers, cafes, farms and interior design organisations. From HSBC, to Channel 9, to Fox Sports, to working with orthopaedic surgeon Dr Gordon Slater, the students made the most of Catriona’s advice and worked hard to make a positive impression on their employers.

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Lucy completed her work experience at Taronga Zoo, where she got up close and personal with Pepper, a Californian sea lion. “Over 12 months ago I applied for work experience at Taronga Zoo, knowing that there are very limited spots available,” said Lucy. “I had the most amazing week working in the Marine Division with seals, penguins and a couple of pelicans. Although some of my time was spent sorting fish, and washing buckets and windows, I was also able to follow and assist the staff. I observed the seals being fed, and I also assisted with the penguin feeding.

This involved writing down when each of the 40 penguins ate a fish. I spent two days in the seal theatre, which involved watching the training of the seals. I saw 6 seal shows, and depending on the mood of the seals each one was very different. The highlights of my week would definitely be getting to feed seals, seeing the adorable two-week-old seal pup, and meeting Pepper, a Californian sea lion. Overall, it was such an incredible opportunity, and I am now considering studying biology at University and hoping to then have a career at the zoo.”

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Mina headed down to Melbourne to Jason Coleman’s Ministry of Dance. “It was an extraordinary experience! I partook in a range of activities including dance classes, administration work, assisting the costume department, attending meetings and watching rehearsals for a gig. One of my highlights definitely would have to be the dance classes. These were cardio/technique/jazz classes which I usually do not do as I do street dance and so it was a challenge at the beginning, but I saw my improvement throughout the week which was incredible! I learned many things in relation to dance and the industry: the importance of techniques, adequate ways of teaching and the range of careers that is offered when a dancer is versatile. After doing work experience here, I am now considering to possibly professionally dance in the future alongside another job!”

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Following on from their work experience placements, Year 10 participated in Wenona’s Balance Matters program, starting with another workshop on the ‘Art of Networking’ to consolidate their skills. It was facilitated by award-winning Business Coach, Ms Jen Harwood who gave the girls invaluable tips on how to meet and greet people at business events. As she explained to them, how do you let people know what you can offer if you don't get out and promote yourself? The girls learnt how to shake hands properly, make eye contact and ask interesting and insightful questions.

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In the afternoon, they headed off to a speed networking event, where they had an opportunity to talk with 15 recent alumnae who left Wenona between 2007 and 2010. Their careers spanned a wide variety of industries, including marketing, structural and chemical engineering, property development, jewellery design, accounting and law.

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The students were under strict instructions to practise what they’d learnt on work experience and in their workshop.

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Alumnae were asked to give them constructive feedback if they didn’t network effectively.

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Ms McFetridge was delighted to see the students striking up conversation and making quality connections around the room.

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“Even if they don’t know what they want to do when they leave Wenona, they need to know how to make connections with people,” she said. “Networking is one of the most useful skills any of us can learn, both professionally and personally. It takes time to hone this skill, so we are incredibly grateful to the employers and our alumnae who have given of their time and expertise to help our students.”

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Year 9 students also had an opportunity this week to network with younger alumnae, many of whom, are still at college or university. After all, it’s never too early to learn the art of networking.

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