Networking is in many respects a misunderstood area. To some it is a slightly mysterious, perhaps even murky world. To others it may simply be making the effort to stay in touch with people you have worked with in the past.
So what exactly is networking? Networking isn’t about collecting business cards. It is about having a group of individuals who you have a relationship with. Importantly, more often than not these are mutually beneficial relationships where there may be the opportunity to share knowledge and information for mutual gain. People often network without realising and as expected, it takes a number of forms. It can be as informal as catching up with ex-colleagues once a year through to joining a formal networking group perhaps centred around your expertise or indeed your local area.
Many people look to network when they decide to look for a new job. It is viewed as a valued technique to gain access to opportunities. By utilising your network you can leverage powerful support from those around you to assist in building your career. For instance by accessing more job opportunities or indeed gaining endorsements for applications you are making. Many people underestimate this aspect of job hunting, yet various statistics point to the fact that between 60 – 85% of roles are secured through networking. The biggest mistake most individuals make is that they only start “actively” networking when they are looking for a role. For many it may be too late to assist them on this occasion.
Networks are based on relationships and take time to build and develop. Click here to Tweet This
So what is the best way to go about building your network?
Develop a networking plan – In order to get the most out of networking and in order to maximise your time it is a critical you have a structured plan. It is worth setting yourself some short and long term goals and this will shape your tactics. It may be that in the short term you are looking for a mentor, some like-minded individuals or indeed to break into another sector. Your plan should include both formal and informal networking.
Make a list of contacts and make contact – this should be a list of both the people you already know and those who you should be in contact with. Developing a list of target individuals who you feel it would be beneficial to be in contact with is critical to your success in networking. Far too often people are just reactive to networking opportunities and not proactive in targeting the right individuals. Once you have your list, careful consideration should be given to how to best make contact with them. Ultimately this will depend on whether there is any form of relationship in existence? LinkedIn is a brilliant tool that most people don’t fully utilise. Not only can you use it to look up individuals but also use your existing network to get new introductions. It is critical that any communications are polite and upfront about why you wish to make contact, perhaps explaining why there may be mutual gain by connecting. I cannot emphasise enough that you must approach people in the right way. Try to make it about them, offer to help them. If you ask for help straight away it is unlikely to go down well.
Use social media – I have mentioned LinkedIn already but Twitter is also a fantastic tool. It can help you identify movers and shakers in your space as well as give you the opportunity to join in the debate and raise your profile. Another consideration should also be writing some blog posts about your sector. My only word of caution here is don’t hide behind the technology. Social media is a creative way to start new relationships but it is important you move this rapidly to ‘proper’ conversation in order to fully leverage the relationship.
Depth of relationship – in order to be able to leverage your network it is important the relationships you have developed are strong. Mutually beneficial relationships, like any relationship needs work. People often underestimate how much time and effort is required. Will your contacts go out of their way to assist you?
Maintaining relationships – Given how busy we all are it can be difficult to find the time to fit in hours of networking but it doesn’t have to be like that. It will not always be about picking up the phone, it might just be a quick e-mail or indeed a short text. Don’t underestimate the impact – people will really appreciate the effort you are making. It is important for you to be seen to act with integrity and conviction. If you say you are going to do something, then do it.
Leveraging relationships – One of the key benefits to building your network is gaining access to job opportunities. Even though the job market is improving, many opportunities are still being filled through companies directly sourcing and accessing the networks of the individuals currently in the business. From the employer’s perspective this type of candidate pool has been pre-qualified and won’t involve a recruitment fee. Where you have close relationships it is worth discussing your career plans and aspirations to see how individuals in your network may be able to help.
Gain an endorsement. A major benefit of your network could be to get an endorsement. If you are pursuing a particular opportunity, do you know anyone in the organisation that would be willing to endorse you? Alternatively is there anyone in your network who may know the line manager who again can endorse you? You cannot underestimate the positive effect this will have on your application.
Feed your network – it is important that you continue to invest in your network at every stage of your career. Failure to put time and effort into feeding your network means that it will not grow. You cannot just make time when you are looking for a new job. You need to develop and grow your relationship when you need nothing from them.
Although I have focused on this area, networking isn’t solely about furthering your career, there are many other benefits. Talking to people in your sector is going to help you in terms of building market knowledge and understanding any industry wide changes that are taking place. It could also be that there are some benefits in terms of contacts that may help you in your non working life. Most of all it should be enjoyable. You will have a natural affinity with some individuals and will hopefully develop some strong and beneficial relationships.