Why Networking Matters & How to Excel at it
Many people underestimate the impact of good networking on their career - it can be transformative. The more you network effectively the more job offers you will receive, the more new business will come your way and the faster you will learn. Your network (your direct contacts and the contacts of those first-degree connections) is essentially a shortcut.
Being connected is critical to being successful
Brilliance rarely develops or exists in isolation and connecting with the 'right' people will help you achieve your potential. Any successful professional with 15+ year's working experience will tell you the importance of their professional network giving you a range of answers as to why they value it.
They will have had job offers via their network or have turned to their network to fill positions. Many will have used their network when researching potential employers or employees. Some will have tapped up their network for free advice; others will have sold products or services to contacts they had known for long before they became clients; a number will have used their direct network to secure introductions that open doors they might not have been able to open otherwise.
Finally, your network will provide you with an invaluable source of relevant news and industry developments; with useful benchmarks; and with emerging best practice.
Breakfast meetings and briefings; conferences; meet-ups and drinks receptions; dinners etc. There are opportunities to network formally and informally, professionally and socially every day of the week. One contact of mine would introduce herself to someone new on the train every morning and had acquired numerous clients as a result.
The abundance of opportunities makes it important to be selective about the professional networking events you attend. Consider:
- who else will be attending - if the organisers can't tell you who is attending, ask for companies and job titles or the attendee lists from previous events.
- whether the people you will likely meet there will:
- further your understanding
- lead to new business or other valuable introductions
- influence your credibility and/ or career or
- simply be interesting and fun
- what the event format is
- what any speakers are likely to talk about and
- any costs.
The best networkers identify the people they want to network with and then either simply make direct contact or engineer opportunities to meet them, for example by introductions from mutual connections or by browsing their social media feeds to identify events they are planning to attend.
Feeling comfortable at networking events
While few people initially feel confident at networking events it is a skill that is easily learned and confidence is easily feigned until it becomes genuine. Confidence (or a semblance of it) comes from being involved and listening.
To this end, before you attend an event, identify some topics you would enjoy discussing. For example:
- two general news stories - find a couple of interesting articles on the BBC or in a newspaper.
- one sports story - as above
- three industry issues - typically I will read one piece of "news" from a relevant trade magazine and stay up to date with two ongoing industry issues e.g. Brexit.
For each of these issues prepare a couple of open-ended questions that will stimulate conversation e.g. "What is your opinion on". Avoid questions that offer the opportunity of a "yes" / "no" answer.
Further to the 'professional' questions have four 'social' questions such as "Have you got any holidays planned?" or "Where are you from?".
Keeping your network alive
Your network is only of value if you nurture it. You are much more likely to do a favour for a contact you are in (semi-)regular touch with than one you met once six years ago at an awards dinner. Nurturing a network takes effort but it will pay itself back.
In the first instance follow up new contacts with a quick email or LinkedIn invitation the next day to integrate them into your network.
Then keep your network alive by making sure that every month you:
- share an interesting or valuable article either via email or social media.
- write something yourself that shows your depth of knowledge and insight. Again share it with your network as they will be unlikely to come and find it.
- let your network know when you will be at events and suggest you could meet up.
Clare Wight is managing director of Clarity Appointments, a fellow of the Institute of Recruitment Professionals a regional director for The Employment Agents Movement (TEAM). Her email is: firstname.lastname@example.org