Network, network, network. You’ve probably heard over and over again about the importance of networking. For some people networking is a necessary evil, something like a chore. And to introverts, networking can feel like some kind of punishment. How can you conquer “networking” and make it even a little bit, dare I say, pleasant? Even…fun?
Let’s start by figuring out what “networking” really means. Repackaging your perception of networking is the key to bringing down the “chore” factor.
Networking is not about attending networking or social events and rushing around having conversations where you try to impress others by explaining what you do, and why your business is the best. Think of it as establishing and maintaining mutually beneficial professional relationships.
As someone who attends business networking events on a semi-regular basis, I can tell you it’s no fun to be on the receiving end. You don’t want to be known or remembered for being “that guy” or “that woman” who would not stop talking about themselves or their interests – people will quickly learn to avoid you.
Similarly, networking is not about “working the room” to collect the maximum number of business cards at an event.
Neither approach sets the stage for making the kind of first impression that will translate into something that is positive and sustainable in the long term. Neither approach helps you build a network that you need to have a resilient career or business.
In my opinion, networking is about establishing a real connection that you can follow up on and nurture over time into a meaningful and mutually beneficial professional relationship. The key takeaways are that it should be sincere and set the foundation for a win-win situation. Take an interest in others and most of the time they’ll return the favour. Everyone knows something … and everyone knows someone.
The reality is, most of us want to work with people we know, like, and trust. If we don’t know someone in a given field, we like to ask our friends and business contacts who they know. In the context of a professional relationship, people don’t put their reputation on the line for others unless they are confident about the person for whom they are vouching. That confidence takes some time to develop.
When it comes to the workplace, it’s essential that you have people who can vouch for you when jobs become vacant, when there are opportunities for promotion, or in other situations (e.g., nominations for awards, special high-quality assignments, etc.).
Similarly, in the business world, it is easier for someone to refer a potential client or customer to you when they know that they will receive excellent service or products from you. This confidence only comes after you’ve demonstrated to the person making the referral that you can deliver as promised.
Some Tips on How to Network Sincerely
Find the right group. Not every networking group is a good fit. When you find the right group, you’ll quickly find yourself at ease. If you attend a networking event and come away feeling like it wasn’t a match, try another.
Be yourself. In terms of the mechanics of networking, in principle, I think it’s best to be yourself. In your other relationships, you probably follow the normal rules of honesty, integrity, sincerity and decency.
Set a small goal for the event. Instead of going into the event imagining you’re going to somehow “work the room,” aim to talk to just one person, in a meaningful way.
Follow up promptly and directly. Follow up, once, with a quick note via email or send an invitation, including a brief message, to connect via LinkedIn. Most people don’t bother to follow up so if you’re one of the rare ones who do, within 24 hours of the meeting, it may help you stand out favourably.
Don’t wait. The best time to network is now. Don’t wait until something goes poorly and you really need to network in order to find a new job or to help grow your business. Building mutually-beneficial relationships takes time.
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