18 May 2017
To put your knowledge into practice and gain all-important experience, doors will need to be opened; that’s when who you know can make all the difference.
Words: Alice Hoey, Editor
Nobody makes it into the senior echelons of management based on their connections alone. However, it’s equally true that equipping yourself with the necessary skills and knowledge isn’t always enough to launch a career and progress it forward.
Being in the right place at the right time, making the right connections and knowing how to use them can improve your chances of getting a foot in the door. Once through, meanwhile, a solid network of connections can help you to deal with the challenges of management and grow and learn more quickly.
OILING THE COGS
Some networking happens naturally as part of the job, because building and maintaining healthy working relationships with people inside and outside the organisation is part of great leadership.
And, as we move from one organisation, course or job to the next, we pick up friendships and acquaintances like leaves on a wheel. As we gain some we lose others, and we may be happy to just sit comfortably in our immediate social sphere, not actively seeking out new contacts.
But we can also be more strategic about our networking by being proactive about expanding our personal and professional circles and making better use of existing connections. While this can be a challenge for some people, the benefits can be considerable.
Networking at group industry events and courses, for example, can be an invaluable way to stay abreast of issues in your field of business and a great opportunity to bounce ideas off people and get a different perspective. Even if they don’t have the answer, they might know someone who does.
FRIEND OF A FRIEND
Having a network of people who not only know your expertise and experience, but also feel they have a warm relationship with you can also put you ahead in terms of career development, because however great your skills and qualifications, they are next to useless if nobody knows about them.
Many of the opportunities that arise from networking result from personal referrals, such as a personal recommendation of your abilities and likeability to a potential employer or a tip off of someone who might be great for your team. These kinds of referrals from friends or associates are like gold dust, because rather than going in cold, the introduction has already been made, and your or the other party’s credibility and credentials are established in advance.
Although referrals tend to follow naturally, there’s no harm in being bold and asking someone if they know of anyone with particular skills or even requesting an introduction. The more often that you stick your head above the parapet and network among peers, potential partners and employees, the more your profile will be raised and the stronger the reputation and authority that you can build. You are also more likely to get referrals, as you will be the one that pops into people’s heads when they have something to offer.
However, it is important to remember that networking is a reciprocal process – an exchange of knowledge, opinions and contacts – and if you bring value to the relationship you are more likely to benefit from it. Sharing your own experiences and views will engender other people’s trust in you and you will become known as a knowledgeable, reliable and supportive person.
For all the benefits, regularly pushing yourself to have conversations with people you don’t know well comes easier to some of us than others, but that in itself can make it a valuable learning opportunity. Setting aside what might come of it, the act of face-to-face networking can help to increase your confidence and improve your communication skills.
If you’re alone at a function, try to be observant of other people’s body language to identify who, like you, is standing alone. Approach them, extend your hand and say ‘hi’. Often you’ll find that they were waiting for someone to do just that. One of the easiest ways to break the ice is to ask questions, starting with something broad and then honing in on what you discover the other person is interested in. If you are planning on networking at a particular event, and especially where most people work in a particular field, it pays to do a little homework. Browse the day’s headlines or gen up on topics you think might be of interest to those present so that you are armed with just enough to kickstart a conversation.
As well as helping to get you both talking, asking questions on the other person’s work or interests makes them feel like an expert and so good about themselves. They are then more likely to reciprocate and want to find out more about you.
It also helps to have thought in advance about what you’ll say when somebody asks the inevitable ‘so what do you do’ or ‘what are you up to these days’. Be concise, relevant and passionate and, rather than trying to sell yourself, focus on listening to the other person; let them guide the conversation.
While many people make the mistake of approaching networking when they need to achieve something, the long-term approach is far more effective. But while building a strong and lengthy personal grapevine may take time and effort, the fruits are likely to be well worth it.