Welcome to the first part of our miniseries developed to help you improve your networking skills and, as a result, increase the number of quality contacts you have.
Below, we will take a closer look at things you can do to make sure you develop a good relationship with your professional contacts, such as:
- The story you want them to learn about yourself,
- What you might want your approach toward other people to be, as well as
- Ideas to consider around your online presence.
In the next part, Step 2 – Go Out There And Connect, we will discuss in practical terms what you can do and where you can go, online and off, to grow your existing professional network.
What networking is and why is important
When you first hear it, the term “professional networking” could sound like something frightening to do, that takes a lot of time to maintain and at the end leaves you exhausted and not necessarily with a larger number of new contacts who can help your career or turn to viable prospects for your business.
So let’s confront the concept of professional networking and see there’s nothing to be afraid of.
Networking is something we all do whether we are aware of it or not. Every time we meet people and share our thoughts with them, listen to what they want to say and at the end of the day learn from each other, this is networking.
Think of our family, friends, fellow students or fellow-group members – they are all part of our personal (private) network. We rely on them for support in some way.
Similar to that, our professional network consists of people we meet through work or work-related events such as seminars, training and so on. We learn from them, exchange ideas, they can help us advance our careers or grow our business.
And so, networking is the way through which we make and develop these connections. It could mean anything from meeting people during formal events such as a conference or a webinar to interacting with them during informal activities, e.g. the Christmas party at the co-working space you share.
Effective networking can (1) help you progress your career, (2) open doors for you if you are looking for a new job, (3) help grow your business by connecting you to the right potential customers or someone who wants to support your endeavour, or (4) bring you to new ideas if you ask people of more or different experience for feedback.
Who should you be focusing on developing connections with?
It’s not the number of contacts in your network that is decisive but rather the quality of those connections. You should be making sure you invest most of your time developing promising professional relationships, not just reaching out to the highest number of prospects possible.
Try focusing your networking efforts on:
- People experienced in their area who can give you trustworthy advice.
- Those who understand the current position you are in and want to support you on your professional journey to where you’d like to see yourself or your business.
- Decision-makers in their own capacity or people who can open the door to them for you.
Also, don’t forget to surround yourself with those who can provide you with emotional as well as professional support.
Avoid time-wasters – those who just over-promise you either their direct support or access to opportunities but at the end of the day fail to deliver.
Before you go out – think of your brand
The aim of networking should not be the piling up of business cards but the development of meaningful relationships with people who can contribute to your business and your professional (and certainly, personal, emotional) prosper.
As Nicole Brigandi puts it, “the real value of networking is in building relationships and developing a community (or communities) of people willing to help each other” (Brigandi, 2018).
So before you start sending out LinkedIn invites, and even before updating your public-access résumé, you should consider who is the person you’d want others to see in you and what is your personal brand.
Try answering the following questions first:
- What have you achieved so far?
- What was the journey that led you to where you are now?
- How have your past experiences formed your character?
- What are your goals?
- Your priorities?
- What are your strengths?
- What can you contribute to make the world we all share a better place for all of us?
Answer those questions for yourself so when an opportunity arises you are ready to shine.
Here is an example:
“I’m a graphic designer with over five years of experience specializing in creating beautiful, unique website experiences that make users’ time with a brand more enjoyable. I’m looking forward to growing my management skills to hopefully develop and inspire a team of my own.”
(Indeed Editorial Team, 2021)
Find out what Google says about you
With anyone else’s online presence accessible at the tip of your finger, you should consider what potential recruiters or clients can also learn about you when they search your name. Update your LinkedIn résumé in accordance with your brand, review your previous social media posts and remove any inconsistent, irrelevant or compromising activities and start posting only on-brand.
Work on your personal approach
When network opportunities present themselves, it’s likely that you’ll have just a few moments to convince people you are worth their while.
Below are some tips on how to leave a positive first impression.
Tip #1: Stay on top of your emotions. It’s a quick tip for something that can take time and practice (and learning from previous mistakes) to master. Approaching new people can be emotionally demanding especially if you are shy by nature. So practice your pitch at home, in front of the mirror – how you will greet the person, what you will say. And don’t forget, in person and on a video call alike, a genuine smile is an icebreaker.
Tip #2: Be kind. Networking is not just a transaction, a mechanical interaction between two parts. It’s the coming together of two people neither of whom should be left with the feeling of being used. Be true to yourself and show courtesy and kindness.
Tip #3: Show appreciation of the other person’s time and effort. During networking, everyone’s time is valuable and if someone decides to make the effort to talk to you, give you advice or introduce you to their network, thank them. Afterwards, send them a personalised follow-up note or email. Do something for them you think they will appreciate or directly ask them if there is anything you can do to return the favour. After a meeting they might have arranged for you with somebody else, let them know how it went and thank them again for their help.
Tip #4: Offer your time. Don’t just wait until someone does something for you to return the favour. Take the initiative and you help them with something first. Be generous with your time and information. Networking is an ongoing process of building quality relationships.
Networking is something we all do by approaching people, sharing stories and useful information and learning from each other, and professional networking takes this process and turns it into a tool that can help you progress your career, find new job opportunities or support your business.
Don’t treat professional networking just as a mechanical process, as something that needs to be done so it starts benefitting you. Networking relies on mutual respect, willingness to share time and effort and appreciation.
Before you start the process, make sure you are prepared – clean up your approach and your online presence.
To be continued
In the tied-in article, How To Build Your Professional Network: Step 2 – Go Out There And Connect, we will discuss how to network in practice, where to find opportunities and what you can do to follow them up.
Thank you for reading and until next time!
- Brigandi, N. (2018, December 03). 10 tips to enhance your professional network. Retrieved April 26, 2021, from https://www.ucl.ac.uk/campaign/10-tips-enhance-your-professional-network
- FutureLearn. (2021, January 29). How to network to improve your career – business networking tips. Retrieved April 26, 2021, from https://www.futurelearn.com/info/blog/how-to-network-to-improve-your-career
- Indeed Editorial Team. (2021, March 29). How to introduce yourself in an interview. Retrieved April 26, 2021, from https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/interviewing/how-to-introduce-yourself-in-an-interview