Networking. A chore? Flattery? Enjoyable? Most people identify networking to be similar to the first two, and many will certainly not find it enjoyable.
It is, therefore, unfortunate that networking is such a crucial skill to develop and use in one’s professional life. If it can be learned to view networking in a different, positive, light, then the benefits of practising this vital skill will be clear as day.
This article will explore ways how to overcome the dislikes of networking and how to build a strong network!
What are the main hinderances?
People love talking about themselves. It is this same psychological fact, that people enjoy thinking about themselves, which is responsible for the fact that people see networking as a selfish act; they see it as an act only of benefit for the one ‘doing the networking’. This is rather counter-intuitive, as this thought process is self-hindering. No one wants to be seen as selfish. However, what you must understand is that the person who you are networking with was once in your position, and so emphasises with you and will not think you are being selfish. Once this feeling of guilt is gone, you can actually start making this a mutually beneficial and valuable relationship. Asking questions about their own experiences often helps built trust and rapport. After all, people love talking about themselves, so let them do the talking.
Stretch yourself. People are very happy to sit within their own networks, just deepening their existing relationships. This is, again, counter-intuitive because deepening connections with existing contacts won’t, most of the time, increase the likelihood of finding a new job opportunity or learning more from someone more learned than yourself. Hence this is why it is essential to actively seek out meeting new people – and while doing this, be sure to give consideration to who exactly you are meeting. Not only will this broaden your network, it will improve your social skills as you become comfortable speaking to, and pursuing relationships with, people you don’t know. There is no better way to overcome your negative feelings on networking, and re-frame it into positive ones, by going out there to meet new people. So, stretch yourself and expand your network.
How to make a powerful network?
Value the connection. Having a strong and wide network allows you to have access to more business and job opportunities, improves your professional profile, and builds your reputation. The way to create such a network is by putting the focus on building long-term relationships, rather than superficial ones. It is from these types of connections that the benefits above are most likely to come from. To build such relationships, try to find shared interests, common ground. This will make it easy to talk to each other, and feelings of friendship will grow from there. Hence, taking time to nurture the relationship will help to add value to the connection, and you can then reap the rewards.
Powerful peers. There is no better network than your existing network, especially with your peers. J Kelly Hoey, a renowned career and networking coach, vouches for this principle. As your peers are people you can directly relate to the most, they are also going to be the most valuable. They, too, are going through the same challenges and experiences as you, and will likely know about opportunities you don’t, and vice versa. In this way, your peer network suddenly becomes ‘your career success strategy’. It is also generally easier to relate to, and thus developing value in the connection, to people around the same age as you. What is important, is to know that you should not be competing with them, because it is not in your, or their, control as to who gets hired at the end of the day. This only creates a lack of sharing of resources, and a secretive nature. If you take time to develop these connections with your peers as friends, you will begin to see how powerful they are.
Engaging with your network
Keep in contact. The easiest way to keep connections alive is by giving updates about yourself, or updating people on any opportunities of use. This is most easily done by posting on professional platforms, such as LinkedIn, when changes in your professional life occur. If you, and you should, add your connections on LinkedIn, they will see your updates in their feed. This is a great way to notify your network of big changes. However, these big changes are likely to occur infrequently. A great way of maintaining engagement is by messaging your connections, every 2-3 months so you neither are forgotten nor become over-bearing. When messaging them, try to do so bringing something relevant to them into the conversation. For example, if you know they are into football, mention something current from the football world.
Informational interviews are very valuable networking strategies. These are informal interviews, where you would reach out to somebody in a career, company, or position, asking to have a small conversation about their career with them. It is important you tell them you admire their career, and want to go into the field yourself. A necessity, once this has been arranged, is to have questions ready to ask. The questions should be ones that google cannot answer! Try to think outside of the box to gain the most from these sorts of interviews. Not only do they add to your knowledge, you will develop connections this way, and sometimes even internships or job opportunities! A smart way how to find people to reach out to is by using LinkedIn to search for your university or school alumni who are now in your desired field, with the appropriate filters. People from the same background as you are more likely to take the time to arrange this for you!
In short, the key skills needed for an effective network are;
- A change in mindset. Re-frame networking into a positive thing.
- Put yourself out there to meet people
- Ensuring your connections are mutually valuable
- And most importantly; the power of your peers.
This article was written by Zac Tiller, an Engineering undergraduate student at Cambridge University and aspiring consultant.