‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know…’
Whilst this statement doesn’t always ring true, there’s no doubt that networking and having contacts in your industry can be a great way to get ahead. Further, it’s never too late to start building out that little black book of professional contacts.
Not sure how to make the right contacts? Here’s a quick guide to help you get the most out of your professional networks:
What is networking?
In business terms, networking is the process of speaking to professional contacts and sharing information with them.
Networking can be formal or informal, and can take many different forms, ranging from exchanging business cards with clients at corporate events, through to simply striking up a conversation with someone you overhear speaking about your industry at an event.
It’s an absolutely vital part of modern business and, what’s more, it’s probably nowhere near as hard as you think.
Why is networking important?
No matter what industry you’re in, knowing the right people can pay off.
When it’s done well, networking can lead to more clients, more exposure and more opportunities to progress up the career ladder. And for jobseekers networking really comes into its own, putting you in the frame for roles that aren’t advertised, or putting you in touch with the decision-maker for roles which are.
Who should I network with?
The short answer: anyone and everyone.
The slightly longer and more helpful answer: you should never pass-up an opportunity to expand your network. Even if the person doesn’t necessarily work in a similar role to you, it doesn’t mean that their organisation doesn’t employ people in that position.
The most effective professional networks are the deepest ones. You never know which of today’s connections will pay dividends in the long run, so never pass up an opportunity to talk to someone new.
How do I do it?
Everyone has their own approach to networking. Essentially, whatever works for you is fine. However, here are a few things to remember:
Take stock of your contacts – Don’t think you have any useful contacts? Think again. Old school friends, family members, friends of friends and friends of family members. All of these could be valuable resources, and many of which will be happy to re-connect with you.
Tap into existing networks – Whether online, or face-to-face. Go to industry events, attend webinars, get involved on social networks and start getting your name out there in your industry.
Get your voice out there – Keep up-to-date with, and comment on, the latest industry developments. You’ll soon start to be seen as a source of authority in your sector. Although for reasons of taste (and for taste, read annoyance) remember that you don’t need to comment on everything.
Write things down – Saving people’s details is a key part of networking efficiently. Otherwise you just end up with a wedge of business cards (technical term) with no faces or stories to put to the names. Making a brief note of the conversations you’ve had is a great way to easily pick up where you left off.
Keep in touch – Possibly one of the hardest parts of efficient networking is making sure you’re front of mind when opportunities come up. If you haven’t spoken or interacted with a particular contact in a while, coming out of the blue and asking for help finding a role will probably not be successful. A quick email checking-in every so often will certainly pay dividends in the long run.
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Other networking dos: Bring a business card, make the most of every opportunity, be patient, be proactive, be persistent.
Take it too fast – It’s a conversation, not a pitch process. Unless you’re incredibly lucky, networking isn’t simply a case of approaching the right person and being offered a job on the spot. It takes time to build the relationship, and trying to force something right-off-the-bat will only serve to annoy.
Make it all about you – It’s not. Flattery certainly plays its part in networking, and one-way conversations will not endear you to anyone. Ensure you listen as much as you speak, and don’t forget to demonstrate what’s in it for them.
Be embarrassed to ask for help – Some people find it awkward to ask for anything. However, networking is typically a mutually beneficial process between people who (generally) quite like each other. It’s not getting something for nothing. In fact, you’ll be surprised how helpful some people can be.
Take too much of their time – Nobody wants to be stuck in a conversation for too much time. Unless you really hit it off, keep your conversations short and pertinent. Being friendly, frequent and focussed will keep you front-of-mind.
Be too hard on yourself – Networking doesn’t come easily for everyone. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be an all-out extrovert to make the most of your contacts. It’ll take time to perfect your approach, but don’t put too much pressure on yourself. It’s just a conversation.
Other networking don’ts: Forget to say thank you, leave it too long, make things up, shout loudly at people and hope for the best.