The Collins Dictionary defines networking as ‘the process of trying to meet new people who might be useful to you in your job, often through social activities’. It is arguably a vital activity throughout your career and especially when managing your job search.
For many, the first thing that comes to mind when they think of networking is large events where you walk into a room, hoping to see a friendly face, but fear standing awkwardly, clutching your drink trying to join a conversation.
In his book The Art of Shouting Quietly Pete Mosley says if the thought of attending networking meetings fills you with dread, and you think you can connect with the right people without attending them, don’t go. Simple.
There are other ways to network
Many of the Executive Search firms run seminars or round table discussions on certain topics, with guest speakers and subject matter experts. Selecting topics that are of particular interest, where you can add value and strengthen your network with relevant people is what one of my HR Director contacts recommends.
‘When I receive networking invitations, I select topics I am really passionate about and attend these events. It helps me to easily decide where to focus my time and has deepened my expertise and contact list in these relevant areas. I also look to help connect other people by making introductions where I can.’
These days online networking is as important as offline. Aim to convert your ‘real life’ network to online, and vice versa thus doubling the number in each group and varying the way you interact.
LinkedIn is a great place to build professional relationships, but it isn’t just a case of having a profile. The important part is being visible and having conversations. My earlier blog gives some more pointers
Don’t send a non-personalised copy and paste message to all your LinkedIn contacts. I received one recently from one a connection I haven’t heard from in years, that didn’t even ask how I am, before launching into a sales pitch for their business.
There is also an active leadership and HR community on Twitter if this is a platform you enjoy with a range of tweet chats.
If you do brave a networking event
- If possible, find out who is attending in advance and identify who you would like to meet. The host could then facilitate introductions or at least let you know who they are so you don’t have to peer at everyone’s chest to read their name badge.
- Nail your elevator pitch – have a short, interesting answer prepared and practiced for when someone asks you who you are and what you do.
- But, don’t just ask other people who they are and what they do. Mosley suggests avoiding ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘where’ and ‘when’ questions and try more dynamic questions like ‘I am intrigued by your ideas, tell me more’ or ‘I’m fascinated to know what you think about x or y’. This encourages true dialogue, and a more meaningful and memorable interaction.
- When you ask people questions, really listen to their answer. Not just so you can talk more about yourself.
- Perfect the art of introducing people to someone else then discreetly moving away for those occasions where you have exhausted the conversation.
- If you are one of the fortunate few who love this environment, now is your chance to shine. Help those who aren’t talking to anyone by speaking to them and introducing them to others.
- Follow up the next day by sending messages to those you spoke with via a personalised LinkedIn connection request. Suggest meeting one to one to speak further.
Play to your strengths
Sarah Fountain, Learning and Development Consultant and Licensed Insights Discovery Practitioner, says it’s a case of recognising and playing to our strengths and preferences. Insights Discovery is a great tool for building your self-awareness and understanding how you like to communicate. It uses the simple language of colour to describe our preferred approach.
‘If you radiate ‘sunshine yellow’ energy then it’s likely that talking to people, whether you know them or not will come naturally to you and you are likely to shine in a networking event and happy to walk in and take things as they come.
For someone who leads with ‘cool blue’ energy, you may dread the thought of a networking event. Coming from a more introverted perspective, you are probably quite precise in your approach and could research in advance who will be at the event, identify any connections in common who may be able to help with an introduction in advance, or for detail on attendees’ background that might help with conversation starters.
If leading with ‘fiery red’ energy is more your preference, then you will likely have a purpose in mind from attending the event and your natural inclination may be to get straight to the point. Remember not everyone is as determined or direct so take time to engage with others, listen to them, and ensure your interaction is two way.
If leading with ‘earth green’ energy is more your style, you are generally relaxed, patient and place high importance on nurturing valued relationships. Take your time getting a drink then look out for individuals on their own and help them by striking up a conversation.’
But there’s something even more important than networking!
I would argue that even more important than meeting new people, is keeping in touch with your existing contacts and developing these relationships. This often under-utilised group is likely to include former colleagues, professional peers and head hunters to name but a few.
Drop them a note and find out what they are up to. Meet them for a coffee. See how you might be able to help them, and in return they might be able to help you with an introduction to that elusive head hunter, the Head of Resourcing in their new business or the CEO they know who is hiring.
Do it all the time
I strongly believe that networking and keeping in touch shouldn’t be activities you pick up when you need or want something, they should be ongoing and mutually beneficial. Don’t wait until your job search becomes urgent before building and maintaining your network.
I worked as a head hunter for over ten years and it was really obvious the people who wanted to build genuine mutually beneficial long-term relationships, and those who only got in touch when they needed something. I have many examples of individuals who would be in constant contact when they were looking for a role, keen to meet regularly, attend events and have long chats on the phone only to vanish the moment they landed in a new role. People are mistaken if they think this isn’t noticed.
The same applies to recruiters who only ever keep in touch when they have a specific opportunity, or they have heard you are recruiting!
I have also seen people who network wonderfully, regularly visible online, on the phone and in person, always first to offer to make an introduction or help someone. These people are as busy as the first group, but have a totally different mindset. They take the time for others and are even more successful as a result.
Take a look at your phone contacts and LinkedIn connections right now – when was the last time you met with, spoke with, or even traded messages with some of them? Are you guilty of meeting someone new at an event, connecting on LinkedIn, then never doing anything with the connection again? What about previous colleagues who you saw every day for years and knew so well?
Who could you catch up with today?
- Understanding your personal preferences and building your self-awareness can be extremely useful when it comes to effective networking, so if you want to find out more about Insights Discovery and how it can help you and your team, why not get in touch with Sarah Fountain.
- Pete Moseley’s book The Art of Shouting Quietly: A guide to self promotion for introverts and other quiet souls is available on Amazon.
- Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash