Networking – top tips on what to do and what not to do!
The thought of networking provokes a wide range of reactions from people. Some are natural networkers and it is just how they are; others have to work at it. There is a further group of people who don’t see the point, for either their day job or their careers, and yet another group of people who feel they should be doing it but aren’t sure how to make the time. A few people are cynical about networking and view it as a self-serving activity, others simply think that the world revolves around them and so everyone else should be making the effort.
Whichever camp you fall into, we think that networking is an integral part of a leadership and management role. Good leaders must have excellent communication and networking abilities. Time and effort should be given to networking, as you would to any other significant part of a job.
So how should one go about networking? There is much advice we could give, but here are some top tips which we think are particularly relevant to our readers:
Networking has been revolutionised by social media, with sites such as LinkedIn and Twitter making it easier than ever to reach out to current or former colleagues, other people you know and those you would like to know. LinkedIn also provides a platform for you to share ideas with other professionals through the membership of groups where you can join in discussions and try to answer questions – adding value and building goodwill.
An obvious but sometime overlooked networking tactic is to tap into your professional association. Go to meetings and events, but make a point of contributing and exchanging ideas (and business cards) with people.
Internal networking is also important, particularly for people looking to develop their careers. Working on or contributing to a corporate project is a good way of stretching your experience to cover areas outside your technical expertise, and to develop your strategic awareness and skills. These opportunities come from being on the inside track, knowing what is coming up, where other teams are struggling and need some support, and then putting yourself forward.
People in business development roles will have targets – probably at least five contacts per day – and you may find it helpful to adopt this tactic (perhaps five a week) until it becomes a natural part of your working day. Don’t over-complicate the process, it is just about finding out what people are up to, letting them know what you are working on, and then developing this into an exchange of ideas, intelligence and perhaps further contacts.
If you really struggle with networking you may find it helpful to have a mentor or coach who will provide practical advice and support. There are also some good books on networking.
Some people we have coached have struggled to overcome their shyness. If this applies to you, our advice, in a nutshell, is to take yourself out of the equation and see networking as a required part of your job – i.e. promoting your role, on behalf of your organisation. For other people who struggle to make the time, again it is about seeing the importance of networking and putting this task at the top of a “to do list” rather than at the bottom.
Mike Wilkins, CEO at Ducane HA and Treasurer at g320, says that networking is an important part of his job and in his role at g320. His ‘top tips’ include the following:
Don’t focus exclusively on new business in your networking activity – it runs the risk of exhausting you and boring others. Ask lots of questions – people will naturally think you are interested in them – even if you are just being polite.
Don’t forget that an apparently random conversation in a coffee queue at a conference can lead to quite unexpected and positive results. Send people you meet (who you think might be helpful) an email after a couple of days and suggest a further meeting, lunch or tea at your office to continue the discussion.
Like all relationships, you only get out of your networking what you put in – you need to build your networks and then nurture them, regularly keeping in touch – not just making a frantic call when you need something.
For everyone, the best advice on networking is to “just do it”.
If you would like to find out more about how to develop your networking skills, or our individual and group coaching and mentoring programmes, please contact Sarah Palmer, Head of Recruitment and Interim Management at Altair on 07806 602933 email: firstname.lastname@example.org or http://uk.linkedin.com/in/sarahpalmerataltairltd