Workingmums’ expert Katerina Gould gives some advice on how to network effectively.
Whether you are working or have been out of the workplace for a while, you might think that the words ‘enjoyable’ and ‘networking’ can never appear together in the same sentence. It is very common to find networking difficult, uncomfortable, too time-consuming and best avoided. However, evidence shows that networking is a vital ingredient to finding a new role, as mentioned in my previous article on getting on with your job search, so it is essential to overcome your resistance to it. In time, you might even start to enjoy it!
Why do we find networking difficult?
The most common reasons that people give are:
– networking is only for political types
– lack of time
– shyness or reserve, not wanting to bother people.
I will address each of these objections in turn:
– It is political. You need to ask yourself how true this is. ‘Am I being political in wanting to learn some new information, get ideas and advice, find a new role or develop my career?’
– Time. You need to think about how important your job search is among your list of competing priorities. It will need to be near to number one, for you to put in the time and effort that effective and enjoyable networking requires.
– Reserve. This usually stems from lack of confidence. It is really important that you start to work on your confidence level before embarking on your networking activity. If you are lacking confidence, you certainly won’t find networking enjoyable. See Is lack of confidence getting in the way of your return to work for advice and tips on how to develop your confidence.
It might be helpful for you to think about the following realities of networking, if you have any lingering objections to it.
1. Networking is part of working life. The people you wish to connect with will all have been helped at some point in their career by someone with whom they have networked. They will all be networking to find information and to meet potential customers, suppliers, employees and employers. You are not asking them to do anything out of the ordinary.
2. The most obvious reason why someone might be keen to talk to you is that most people are on the look out for new sources of information or insight and employers are usually looking out for people with talent and skills. You will always be of interest to the people you are meeting because of the perspectives and insights you have, as well as your own network.
3. Most people love to talk about themselves! So, if you are asking about a person’s career path, their role, their training, their industry knowledge or their organisation they should be happy to talk to you.
How to make networking enjoyable?
1. Be realistic. You are unlikely to come away from your first meeting with a job offer. Or your 10th meeting. Or even your 20th. But each meeting you have will be taking you one step closer to your goal.
2. Be really clear about your goal for the networking meeting. It is much easier for people to be helpful to you if they understand what you need. Are you looking for information about the requirements for a particular type of role that interests you? Do you want to understand an industry or organisation better? Are you looking for insights into specific people? Do you need advice on how to find a particular role? Are you looking for further contacts? Do you want ideas on where your skills and talents might fit in an organisation?
3. Work out why it would be helpful for the person you want to contact to meet you. What insights, knowledge, experience, skills, talents and network do you have? Don’t ever imagine that you have nothing to offer!
4. Think, in advance, what will make each meeting a success for you and celebrate your success afterwards. If you think of the meeting as a chance to talk about something that is interesting and important to you (your future), you are more likely to feel positive about your experience.
5. Keep your meetings short. People are busy and so if you say you’ll only need half and hour of someone’s time, keep to your commitment. That way you make sure you don’t cause irritation.
6. Find a networking buddy. This is a supporter who can encourage you to get started and to keep going, someone to discuss your meeting preparation with who will also enjoy hearing about your experience.
Lastly, once you are in your new role, don’t stop networking. It will continue to be important for you to learn new information about your field, meet potential customers and suppliers, as well as possible employers and even future employees!
Good luck! If you have any questions or comments, please get in touch via the website.
Katerina Gould runs Thinking Potential, offering career consultancy and executive coaching. As a working mum, she has a special interest in helping women navigate all the transitions they face in their careers. Katerina will be speaking at seminar sessions at Workingmums.co.uk LIVE. Register for free.