This article considers a few key points about different forms of networking, the challenges as well as the benefits. Whether you are employed, looking for your first job, or aiming to set up your own business, maximising networking opportunities can bring rewards.
Let’s start with a question:
What images come to mind when you see or hear the term ‘networking’?
Networking can strike fear into the heart of some people. They think of rooms full of strangers they need to approach, start conversations with and make useful career connections.
Others can’t wait to ‘work the room’, gaining as many new contacts as possible.
Whatever your feelings towards networking are, let’s start with some basic points.
1st Networking is much more than entering rooms full of strangers and emerging triumphantly with a phone full of contacts or a handful of business cards. We have to consider the quality of the conversations we have and how they can be of mutual benefit.
2nd It’s not about whether a person is confident or shy and reserved. Confident people are no more innately good at networking as shy people are bad at it. We all have the potential to improve our networking skills and boost our confidence as well as our contacts. We just have to find the ways we are most comfortable with and go from there.
3rd It’s not the case that some people have no networking experience; we are all constantly networking but perhaps don’t realise it! A chance meeting or social media exchange doesn’t have to be labelled ‘networking’- it may be indirect and informal.
For example, you may have:
- Met useful professional contacts outside of the work sphere.
- Had a casual chat with someone in a social setting where you gained valuable advice, perhaps tips about jobs that were coming up.
- Attended an event or meeting where you had some useful exchanges that laid the foundation for future collaborations, however large or small.
Think about when you’ve met people in such ways but never thought of it as ‘networking.’
When, Where and How can we Network?
It may seem a cliché, but you can network just about anywhere, anytime if the opportunity arises and you feel so inclined.
- Whilst studying
Meeting other students through your studies and joining societies are forms of networking. You make friends but also potential career contacts.
You should also engage with the college/university careers advice centre that will have a range of services on offer. These include networking opportunities through a variety of events and courses where you can meet people from different industries and professions. Look out for workshops such as improving your CV and employability profile and mentoring schemes.
Take advantage of as many of these opportunities as possible!
Think ahead too- some contacts made at university may be important to you throughout your life.
- In the workplace
Whether you work full, part-time, run your own business, or volunteer, you will be meeting people on a daily basis. There will be informal events and meetings as well as professional ones providing networking opportunities. You can get to know other people, find out about their jobs and professional journeys. You can pick up useful information that can help you not only in your current role but also going forward.
- Social situations
Whilst not recommending you never switch off from thinking about your career, if a networking opportunity arises, you could take it. When we meet new people, conversations often begin with ‘what do you do?’ Or ‘what’s your job?’ Going out for leisure and relaxation will probably mean less pressure than in a more formal situation. You may feel you can chat more easily about your career ambitions without having expectations from the conversation.
You could meet people who have contacts or colleagues in areas you’re interested in and can put you in touch.
It may seem casual but such networking can be very fruitful.
- Attending Networking Events: A few tips
- Do some research before the event: what sort of people will be there? What is the format?
- Have some business cards ready.
- Be clear about what you have to offer and are looking for.
- Dress appropriately but comfortably.
- Don’t rule anybody out- everyone is a potential connection, if not now then perhaps in the future.
Remember: Networking is always a two-way process.
- Do not approach it solely as about what you can get from it but what you can offer to the others.
- Don’t just talk about yourself but listen to others, hear about their experiences, learn from them.
- It’s not just about you; you may meet people that could be helpful to colleagues or friends. Put them in touch (with their permission) –this can be mutually beneficial networking.
We conduct a lot of our lives now online. The key is to maximise our online networking skills.
- Review your networks and make the most of existing contacts. Keep updated.
- Do a checklist of what groups you already belong and those you aim to join.
- Ensure your LinkedIn profile is up to date. Share with your colleagues and friends and ask for/give recommendations.
- Boost your social media presence generally through other platforms for eg. Twitter. You may find employment and business opportunities through ‘remote’ colleagues.
If you feel there are not enough suitable networking opportunities for you, then create some yourself! It helps to be proactive.