Welcome to the second and final 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 discuss (1) how to network in practice, (2) where to find opportunities and (3) what you can do to follow them up.
For notes on things you can do to make sure you develop quality relations 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, please refer to the first part of this series, Step 1 – Your Brand Is You.
As we previously discussed, 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.
It’s important not to treat professional networking just as a mechanical process, something that needs to be done so it starts benefitting you. Remember, networking relies on mutual respect, willingness to share time and effort and appreciation.
After you make sure you are ready to start the process, here is what you can do next…
Start small, talk to friends and colleagues
Ask your closest ones for advice first. Your colleagues may let you know about events they are planning to attend that you may have missed; and friends, not necessarily in your field of work, may share notes with you on how they alone are expanding their professional network. Don’t underestimate the power of the good old word of mouth.
Reach out to inspiring individuals
There isn’t much point in spending time expanding your network just for the sake of reaching some arbitrarily impressive number. You should rather focus on connecting with people you share interests with or find fascinating. Research friends of friends or someone completely new and send them a LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter invite.
Find networking events you can attend
Networking events are opportunities specially designed to help professionals get together and make connections. Some could be casual and give you time to chat with peers while others, such as lectures and presentations, are more structured.
Here are 10 types of networking events that can help you grow your network and advance your career:
- Happy hour meetups
- Industry-specific seminars
- Virtual groups
- Career fairs
- Conferences/trade shows
- Breakfast or luncheon meetings
- Community service groups
- Speed networking
- Roundtable discussions
(Indeed Editorial Team, 2021)
The following are just a few examples of the many websites you can use to find networking opportunities:
- Meetup: a virtual notice board with a wide range of formal and informal, free and low-cost in-person events in any industry. There’s also a special category for “career and business events.”
- Eventbrite: the online place where your industry is likely to post their upcoming events, both free and paid. There you’ll find fairs, festivals, discussions, conferences, classes and more.
Check your social media and your inbox
If you are following industry organisations on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, it’s likely you’ll get notified for any event they have planned, either on their profile (in-post or as a direct message) or in their newsletter if you are a subscriber.
Join an industry body
Professional organisations are a place where you can not only find the latest in your industry in terms of news and event ads but also they are managed by experts in your field who can provide you with personal access to highly qualified and experienced professionals able to progress your career or business.
If you are in the UK, you can always refer to the list of approved professional organisations and learned societies to find who you can join. (Note that in order to search through that massive database, you should select the ‘Ctrl’ and ‘F’ keys on your keyboard and type in the most relevant part of the name in the search box that appears – for example, for ‘Society of Actuaries’ you would type ‘actuaries’.)
Volunteer your time
Consider that connecting with someone who might not come from a background similar to yours but shares your particular passion can enforce your professional network. Volunteering part of your time with a charity or advocacy group you feel strongly about can bring you deeper satisfaction and open you to more meaningful relationships.
If you are interested in UK charities you’d like to support, search the register of UK charities.
Contact your alumni organisation
Reach out to the career centres and/or alumni affairs office for your college or university and ask them for information and advice about your career or job search. They can provide you with any database of alumni volunteers you can search for contacts by geographic area and career field.
Consider contacting your local library or religious centre that may host events you can join.
Before heading to a networking event, here are some tips to help you make most of it:
Tip #1: Consider any event a networking opportunity. It’s not necessary for an event to be specifically marketed as networking for you to approach people there and expand your contact base. Seize any occasion.
Tip #2: It takes patience. You are at a networking event, you meet a person who you think can give you your dream job or provide you with any other opportunity. Don’t rush it – don’t ask straight away for a job. Take time to build a proper relationship with that person first so they don’t feel used.
Tip #3: Don’t hijack the conversation. When engaging in a networking talk, respect every contributor. Listen and share your experience, but avoid trying to stand out because that would leave the person you are trying to impress with a bad taste in their mouth.
Tip #4: Know your brand. Be prepared to introduce yourself to your potential employers, partners or customers. Know your strengths and how the journey you’ve been on can help them. Find here how you can figure that out.
Tip #5: Be motivated to step out of your comfort zone. According to research, “[p]eople are more likely to be referred for jobs by their second and third degree connections” (Giang, 2016, also cited in: Brigandi, 2018). That means a recent contact you made, someone who doesn’t know you that well and is less aware of your flaws, is more likely to recommend you for a job than someone with whom you share a lot of history. Of course, that doesn’t mean you should avoid turning to your primary contacts for support. Make use of your whole network but pursue new connections as well.
Tip #6: Make it easy for others to help you. When reaching out to someone in your network, try referring to those principles:
- First, remind them who you are – how you met, who introduced you or the interest that brought you together.
- Then, explain why you are getting in touch – what it is you’d like help with, what you are expecting to happen.
- Then, suggest options for a follow-up and ask if it’s at their convenience.
- Finally, thank them in advance for any support they are able to provide.
Tip #7: You will face rejection. Get over it. It’s inevitable, not every request you’ll make will bring the results you want. Not every person you turn to will find the time or have the interest to help you. That’s a fact. It’s unlikely to be personal, it’s likely it’s just business.
Work on deepening your connections
As we previously said, networking is not about the number of business cards you pile up but the quality of the connections you make. Try investing your effort into making yourself approachable and when meeting people, appreciate them – listen first and then speak.
Below are some ideas of how to make the best of your network:
- Follow up with contacts worth your effort. Of course, you should invest some time in connecting with new people on LinkedIn but not at the cost of losing focus from building meaningful relationships with fewer people. You had a good conversation with someone? Follow it up with an email or direct LinkedIn message.
- Make time during the week to meet with some of your contacts. Try building a relationship with area experts or leaders before you need it. Pick up your most promising 5 or 6 contacts and schedule out-of-office meetings with them every once in a while until you develop that sense of a monthly schedule.
- Set yourself up for the next contact. Before you say goodbye, show interest in the other person, ask them what they are working on right now so next time you meet with them, you can pop into the conversation, “Last time we met, you mentioned… How is that going?”
- Making yourself useful should be your default state. It’s more likely for others to see you as a valuable resource if they see you are willing to offer your time, knowledge and effort.
Look for industry events but don’t overlook your community and what it could offer you.
Consider every event a networking opportunity where you can showcase yourself and your business but without hijacking the conversation.
Make new contacts but avoid spreading yourself too thin – just focus on the few people that have the potential to become valuable connections, and follow up with them. Make sure you invest a reasonable amount of time and effort.
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
- Brownlee, D. (2019, December 31). 6 ways to boost your professional network in the new year. Forbes. Retrieved April 26, 2021, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/danabrownlee/2020/01/02/6-ways-to-boost-your-professional-network-in-the-new-year/?sh=21d355196862
- Burry, M. (2020, August 5). How to find networking events worth going to. Retrieved April 26, 2021, from https://www.thebalancecareers.com/how-to-find-networking-events-worth-going-to-4178849
- Giang, V. (2016, June 14). What LinkedIn data reveals about who will help you get your next job. Retrieved April 26, 2021, from https://www.fastcompany.com/3060887/what-linkedin-data-reveals-about-who-will-help-you-get-your-next-job
- Guido, A. (2021, April 08). 5 ways to improve your professional networking skills. Retrieved April 26, 2021, from https://careerprotocol.com/5-easy-ways-to-improve-your-professional-networking-skills/
- Indeed Editorial Team. (2021, February 23). 10 types of networking events. Retrieved April 26, 2021, from https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/types-of-networking-events
- Profita, M. (2019, April 25). How to use your alumni network in a job search. Retrieved April 26, 2021, from https://www.thebalancecareers.com/how-to-use-your-alumni-network-in-a-job-search-2059887
- Rossheim, J. (n.d.). 10 tips to improve the quality of your networking. Monster Career Advice. Retrieved April 26, 2021, from https://www.monster.com/career-advice/article/improve-quality-of-your-networking.
- Tacopina, C. (n.d.). 5 ways to expand your professional network. Retrieved April 26, 2021, from https://blog.execu-search.com/5-ways-to-expand-your-professional-network/