Top tips for effective networking
The importance of networking can’t be overstated; it’s one of the best ways to find out about job opportunities and is crucial for any career-minded professional. But it’s something that seems to come naturally to some, but not to others.
If you’re one of those people who finds networking difficult, here are some suggestions to get you connecting like a pro.
The Internet is teeming with opportunities to put your best foot forward and meet those doing the same. Online forums are a digital goldmine of networking prospects so it’s a great idea to join online professional groups and industry-specific discussions.
Creating a website, blog, Facebook business page or similar will allow people to get to know you and connect with you through engagement tools such as comments, likes and shares. When your connections share your content with their connections, it essentially expands your network by proxy.
While LinkedIn is an online platform, it’s fast becoming the new business card so be sure to optimise your profile and connect with others in your profession. Follow industry groups and thought leaders, participate in discussions where you can add value, and post content that may be of interest to others. Providing useful information and generating conversations will build your profile and may catch the attention of key players in your sector.
- In person
So much of the world we live in these days is digital, it’s easy to forget to make actual human contact – but that contact is vital. Raymond Arroyo, New York Times best-selling author and networking coach, reinforces this in his article ‘Five mistakes to avoid when networking with Twitter’, by saying that “many believe effective networking is done face-to-face, building a rapport with someone by looking at them in the eye, leading to a solid connection and foundational trust”.
There are numerous industry-specific networking events that are run around the country such as conferences, trade shows and awards nights that allow you to network in person. Work on your small talk and understand the importance of a first impression so you don’t miss any opportunities when you’re in front of noteworthy people.
Also ask people in your network, whether that be friends, LinkedIn contacts or former colleagues, if they have time to meet for a quick coffee to discuss possible positions, contacts or just general career advice. Whatever you do, make things as easy for them as possible, and don’t make them do your thinking for you. That means come prepared with a list of questions or a list of companies you would like to work for, and see if they can put you in touch with any key personnel or hiring managers. And of course, pay for their coffee as they are donating their valuable time.
- Stay in touch
Staying in touch might seem like an obvious suggestion but it’s surprising how many people will make a connection and then put no effort into maintaining it – until they need something, and that’s not the way networking works. If, on the other hand, you keep in touch with your network allies on a regular basis and help out whenever you can, they won’t feel used and abused when you do reach out to them. If you’re looking for work, a well maintained network may result in your contacts being aware of your job hunt situation and offering their help freely before you even need to ask.
- Thank people
A simple thank you can go a long way and will gain you the respect of colleagues, mentors and new acquaintances alike. With email increasingly replacing phone conversations in the workplace, manners can easily fall by the wayside and a lack of common courtesy won’t make people keen to associate with you. Be genuinely grateful for whatever assistance anyone offers, and express your thanks freely.
- Offer to help others
Networking is not about schmoozing, and it most certainly shouldn’t be about using others – giving back is equally important. Put your efforts into assisting those in your network as a matter of principle, and in return people will be more inclined to go out of their way to help you. Harvey Mackay, an American motivational author and speaker, understands the concept of building a successful network, stating in ‘The golden rule of networking’ that his “golden rule” is: Don’t keep score.
- Access alumni
Your school and higher education classmates are a vast, and often forgotten, network just waiting to be tapped into. Reid Hoffman, Internet entrepreneur and co-founder of LinkedIn, aptly states in a Fast Company profile that “one of the challenges in networking is everybody thinks it's making cold calls to strangers. Actually, it's the people who already have strong trust relationships with you, who know you're dedicated, smart, a team player, who can help you.”
If you haven’t kept in touch with your classmates, get on the mailing list for your alma mater’s newsletter and find out when the next alumni event is being held.