If the idea of networking conjures up thoughts of awkward handshakes and uncomfortable conversations, we have good news: it doesn’t have to be that way. Like any business skill, this is something you can learn. And with a recent study showing that as many as 85% of jobs go unadvertised, it seems networking really is an integral part of career progression.
We spoke to three professionals who’ve made networking a non-negotiable part of their career.
Put yourself out there
One of the most immediate ways to start networking is to attend an industry event. If you’re not the extroverted type, attending with someone else can make meeting new people more enjoyable. Deakin MBA graduate Melinda Di Vita, Head of Distribution at Guild Super, has found relationship building is easier when a colleague or friendintroduces you. ‘I’m not comfortable in pointing out my achievements when I first meet someone, but during a warm introduction the person tends to do this and also finds a common ground.’
James Buzzard, who works in management consulting at KPMG, views networking events as a useful form of information sharing. After graduating from an MBA in 2014 he began attending Deakin alumni events as an opportunity to chat with friends and colleagues about business problems they are facing. ‘I give examples of what sort of things we do within my organisation – not just within my team, but more widely.’ Recognising that you have information to share that can help others is an important part of finding your networking groove.
Don’t just wing it
Do you feel more relaxed discussing topics you are familiar with or topics you know nothing about? It’s a no brainer: being informed brings confidence. So if you’re reaching out to someone with the hope of improving your future prospects, do your homework.
Buzzard says, ‘There’s no point in having a discussion with someone when you have no knowledge of the industry, trends, current hot topics, so go into a conversation prepared. Ask them their opinion on something topical and make sure you have an opinion as well.’
Think outside the square
Some people find standing around chatting over drinks uncomfortable but give them a task to do and they really shine. If attending network events is not your thing, career advisers suggest that getting involved with community helps professionals to build effective networks
Deakin MBA graduate Ian Allison, founder and director of Botanical Funerals by Ian Allison, volunteers with Suicide Prevention Australia as a way of giving back. ‘I think it’s also important to be involved in the community and give some of your time to charity or unpaid community type work. There’s some really successful business people doing great things in the community and you’ll be able to meet them by involving yourself in these types of activities.’
Melinda Di Vita agrees that volunteering is a useful way to build networks. ‘I’ve also been very conscious of moving out of my day to day social circles. I try to push myself to participate in activities like charity work and events where you meet like-minded people with a common goal.’
Take the time to build connections
Whether it’s joining online networking sites or sending a polite follow up email after you’ve met someone, staying in touch over time means that when you’re looking for a career change you have a number of people who know your worth. Di Vita says, ‘Building relationships does not happen overnight, you need to build trust with people.’
Networking doesn’t have to be something you only do when you’re looking for a career change. Ian Allison says: ‘I set myself the goal of contacting a specific number of people each week whether it be face-to-face, over the phone or email to help build and maintain my network. I also keep a record of who I contact and when.’
In James Buzzard’s experience, people are generally receptive when you make contact. ‘You can easily reach out to someone that only has a distant connection to you (e.g. a fellow alumni) and ask for a quick 10-minute conversation over the phone to find out a little of their story. A recent MBA alumni did just this to me and we currently have their CV in our recruitment process.’
Having a wide range of business contacts builds your future prospects and proves useful in your current role. Buzzard suggests, ‘Start reaching out to your contacts who either work within the industry or career path you are seeking to pursue and have a conversation. This includes asking others as to whom they might know in the industry/career path. Most opportunities come from people who are two to three degrees of separation from you.’
Originally published on this.