Networking can greatly enhance your professional growth and success - but there’s a lot of confusion about what networking really is and how to go about it. Industrial psychologist Phiona Martin offers some good advice to help kick-start your networking journey.
When people think of networking, they often picture someone sailing through a room at a prestigious event, schmoozing influential people for personal gain. If this image makes you feel anxious or uncomfortable, the good news is that this isn’t a true reflection of networking.
Networking is really about building mutually beneficial relationships for career or business purposes. It is long-term and ongoing. Networking should not be approached as a self-serving activity that is solely based on “asking for stuff”.
Building a network of people who might be helpful in your career is important at every stage of your professional life, whether you are a job seeker, just starting out, or in an established career.
Networking is not something that you do only when you’re looking for a job, or trying to sell something. It is an ongoing process that is about relationship-building and often does not come with immediate results. If you have a “hit and run” approach, where you only start to network when you require a new job or new clients, you may not have enough depth in your networking relationships to yield positive results.
Networking should be mutually beneficial. If you do not need anything from your contacts at the moment, then be the one to extend a helping hand. This could be in the form of information, referrals or introductions that may be of use to another person.
Demonstrate an authentic interest in people and the work they are doing as a way of nurturing relationships. Keep a mental tally and if you find you are always on the receiving end of favours from someone, balance it by offering to do something for them too. It can be as small as offering your time to help them with something they are working on.
Networking is using those around you to access information and resources and this does not have to be at a formal event like a conference or seminar. Networking can take place at a family function or social gathering, or it may simply be a matter of going through your phone book and asking people you know for referrals or information.
There can be a wealth of networking opportunities right on your doorstep and perhaps what you are looking for lies within your close circle. Sometimes it is not a matter of who has power, but rather who has information that you can leverage. Close networks that you can tap into are members of your social clubs (e.g. Toastmasters, gym), old school friends and professors, neighbours, people at your place of worship, family, friends and former colleagues and bosses.
People may have contacts or information which they don’t share, simply because they are not aware that it is relevant or of interest to you. So, if you are looking for a job in the banking sector, let everyone in your immediate network know that you are on the market and ask them to introduce or refer you to people they know in that sector. Do not discount the richness of the network around you.
Successfully building a network is not about how many business cards you collect or how many social media connections you have. It’s not the number of connections, but the depth of relationships that matter.
If you have amassed a lot of contacts, select a few relationships that you want to grow and focus on building these. A suggestion is to tier your contacts into three categories according to priority, with the first tier being a list of people that you feel can be of most value to the networking goals you are trying to achieve.
Continual engagement will ensure your networking relationships are nurtured and “kept warm” for when you really need them. This way, you’re not one of those people that only reach out to your contacts when you need something. And it means that your contacts might think of you first if an opportunity comes up.
Here are some great ways to nurture your relationships:
- share articles that you know the contact may be interested in
- comment on their social media posts
- acknowledge milestones in their life, e.g. change of jobs, a promotion, birthday, or a new business venture
- share your own milestones
A lot of people feel awkward around networking, particularly when it comes to asking for something. Making very big asks from people you do not have solid relationships with can come across as tactless or opportunistic. This is not to say being direct is never appropriate, it must just be used with caution.
There are two appropriate, non-invasive things you can ask of a contact, particularly one you do not know well - information or advice. For example, instead of asking a LinkedIn contact to get you a job at their company, rather say “would you have any information on potential vacancies at your company?” or “could you please provide me with advice on some of the key things your company considers when they hire?”.
In order to successfully build relationships that can enhance your business and professional growth, the most important thing to remember about networking is that it's a “give and take” process. Favours, information and opportunities must flow both ways. The results of networking are not instant, as relationships take time to build and grow. And don’t forget - in your own circle, there may be a goldmine of information and opportunities that you may not have leveraged yet.
The information contained in this document does not constitute advice. Should you need advice, it is recommended that you contact 1Life and request to speak with one of our high advice consultants.