For many of us who have studied at a higher level, university is the most social time of our lives. We make lifelong friends, possibly lifelong partners. Our learning experiences become lifelong memories and forge a valuable part of our individual wisdom as we define who we are. And just as importantly, university – and the first few months after the milestone graduation – helps us to make connections that are a part of a lifelong journey.

Honing your CV and winning interviews by harnessing as much of your experience as possible will increase your chances of finding a good employer to begin your ascent up the career ladder, but learning how to effectively network could be the deal breaker or a life jacket on a rainy day.

Know your crowd and play it

While it’s important not to become a name-dropper, knowing who is who in your industry and knowing when to reference them can be a big advantage. Whether you have worked with a key player in your field on a voluntary project or simply look towards someone as a role model, simply understanding the importance of that person’s contribution can make a difference. Meet as many people in your field as possible, but make conscientious connections – this is a two way street. Don’t just think about what they can do for you, but what you can do for them and how building your relationship is relevant to your career. There are people who may be able to provide direct opportunities for you, while others may simply be stepping stones through which you can meet other connections.

Think of networking as a performance. It’s an honest expression of what you are passionate about, and this is especially relevant during networking events. It doesn’t just extend to the old pros, either – networking is about engaging potential customers, so do your market research ahead of time, come prepared, and be ready to answer questions, and most importantly, be open to hearing new ideas. At the same time, don’t be afraid to ask bold questions and show your enthusiasm. An innovative and daring individual is more likely to stick out in someone’s mind rather than another carbon copy graduate stepping into a highly competitive world. Entrepreneurs like Lord Laidlaw and Richard Branson owe much of their achievements to going the extra mile and not blending in; Laidlaw, who just sold his successful firm for $1.4bn, continues to make waves in his field not only through dedicated work, but also his presence at high-profile networking events.

Harnessing the power of social media and marketing

Since your performance is also your pitch, bring marketing material that makes you stand out while providing essential information about who you are and what you do. Business cards are a must, while mugs, magnets, and pens are items that everyone can use. It’s a way to keep advertising yourself at a low cost. Most importantly, make sure you collect as many cards as you give out.

Social media is a great way to market yourself, and you can enhance your presence at networking events by announcing where you’ll be, following up on the success of the show, and even doing live tweets if you have time. It’s the most effective tool for maintaining a close relationship with your clients, your industry, and your contacts. Keep posts classy, relevant, interesting, and frequent – and this will help you advance in your career as well as hone some vital business social skills. Whatever your industry and the competitiveness of your rivals, it is the connections you make with one another that will pave the path to success.