Networking, it’s one of those words that puts the fear into the best of us.
However I don’t think anyone would dispute the fact that networking has a vital part to play throughout our career. Whether job searching, looking to advance or move about internally, building our professional reputation, or purely to make new contacts – networking plays a vitally important role.
As important as it is, it is often one of those tasks that gets put to the back of the to-do list because we put it into the too hard, too scary or too awkward box! It can often feel well outside our comfort zone!
Don’t fear….we’ve pulled together 7 great tips to help even the most introverted of people get on the path to networking success.
1. Discard Networking Presumptions
Often we think of networking as turning up at a formal networking event with hundreds of other people in attendance who all seem to know each other and we know no one! But in reality networking comes in many, many forms (some of which are highlighted below) and networking isn’t just about attending formal events. So manage your mindset around networking, think outside the box, and keep positive.
2. Networking Online
As mentioned above, networking can take many forms and if the ‘in-person’ approach is a little scary to start with, online is equally as valuable (and a heck of a lot easier). LinkedIn is the obvious starting point but remember to make connections of quality not quantity. Start by reaching out to people you already know and connect with them, then move onto people who are in a similar profession or industry that may be of value. Recruiters are also great to connect with if you are job searching. Try to personalise your connection request so individuals can understand your offering and value.
3. Look Internally
Why not try out this networking game within your existing workplace? Unless you work for a particularly small company, there are often people we don’t know or don’t know well. Try expanding your network by visiting Frank in Accounts rather than emailing him, or say hi to Jenny from Marketing when you see her at the coffee van. These small gestures lead to new acquaintances and sometimes even into friendships.
4. Network Isn’t Just About The Professional
Friends outside of work, family members, your neighbours, your kids friend’s parents, old school chums, the woman who runs the local post office, and so on are also in your network. They are people you know and therefore, have potential to be useful members of your professional network. Who knows, perhaps your son’s gymnastics’ teacher’s brother works for the company you’d like to work for! So don’t be shy, keep it casual but have a chat.
5. Manage Your Old Network, Don’t Just Focus On The New.
We can often become focused on expanding the network and can forget about the professional network we already have. Look who you are already connected with on LinkedIn for example, can you reach out to old colleagues and managers for a chat? Drop old co-workers an email to catch up and even schedule a coffee or call. Most people are pretty helpful but remember, be genuine - as with friendships, you don't want to only be in touch when you need a favour or are looking for a new job!
6. Keep Track And Follow Up
As you do begin to make new connections and build your network, be sure to keep track of who you have spoken to and when, particularly if this is part of a job search tactic. Who do you need to follow up with, and how will you do this? Drop them an email, give them a call, or send them a LinkedIn message for example? This way, potential opportunities won’t get missed and the new contact will become a more genuine relationship.
7. Most Importantly - Manage Your Own Expectations
We network with one person at a time. Even if you are attending a formal networking event, you don’t have to come away having chatted and swapped business cards with every person there. Even if you just meet one person (in the queue to the loos, or at the bar waiting to be served), then you have succeeded! Remember, through that one person, you now have potential to access their entire network. So be realistic and be kind to yourself. One person at a time.
If you need help with building your network, or your job search, please get in touch.