The Power of Networking
When most people hear the term ‘networking’, the hairs on the back of their neck stand on end, as they envisage a large room full of people who they need to mingle with. Networking - the dreaded strategy that causes the introvert to break out in a nervous sweat, the uni student to panic at the prospect of attending more career fairs and events, and the LinkedIn subscriber to frantically accept as many contacts they can muster, despite any lack of real connections. Does anyone even know what networking really is? Is it really about standing awkwardly at a work function trying to make small talk with a group of people who also would rather be somewhere else? Does a good networker really have to score over 500 plus connections on LinkedIn? Do you really have to get out of your comfort zone to network and attend every single work or professional development event in order to build your networks?
Networking is essentially building relationships with people for reciprocal value. This value may not be immediate; however, making connections can lead to future opportunities. In this short article we are going to demystify networking and highlight some simple strategies to help you become a star networker.
Networking is a communication game
If you want to be a star networker then you need to be a star communicator. Essentially, networking is about communicating well with people and forming strong relationships. You don’t have to be an extrovert to be an excellent communicator. You just need to be able to listen carefully and show an interest in others. You should always be professional and polite in your communication and show respect for everyone you encounter. As the great Maya Angelou said, “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But they will never forget how you made them feel.” So turn your focus to the person in front of you, listen with intent, show them respect, and be kind. You will be remembered for it, and your network will grow as people will want to be connected to you.
Treat every conversation as a networking opportunity
As the saying goes, it is not what you know but who you know. Your next career opportunity is mostly likely going to come from someone you know and it probably won’t be who you are expecting. Have conversations with people and talk to them about your ideas and passions and life-long goals. Listen to their stories too. Never discredit the people you work with, your manager or boss, your friends, people in your social circle, gym buddies and even your neighbours. I even consider the other parents I talk with at the school while waiting for my kids to be a network opportunity. We all have connections, even connections beyond our career fields. So treat every conversation, every email and meeting like it is a job opportunity because you never know what might come from it or who is considering you as a potential candidate.
You are an opportunity for someone else
Don’t forget that as you are attempting to develop your networks in the search for the golden opportunity, others are trying to network you. What are you bringing to the game? In what ways can you help others? To date, the greatest networker I know isn’t someone who has necessarily benefitted from her networks (although I am quite sure she has). But the reason I perceive her to be an effective networker is because she brings her networks together when she recognises their compatibility. She seeks nothing from the union except the pleasure of knowing she has created a beautiful partnership. And it is in this selfless way of living that she has reached the ultimate networker strategy because she has strong and authentic connections and that is more valuable than 500 plus strangers on Linkedin. So when you are thinking of networking, think: who can I connect together to help foster a beautiful partnership?
Some networks take years to foster, so be patient. In most instances, the fruits of your networking labours won’t grow into an opportunity for a long time so it pays to spend the effort to nurture and feed the tree you are growing. Be strategic, look for opportunities that can expand your networks or develop your skill set. Treat every conversation and person you meet as a potential opportunity.
Written by Toni Jones, Co-Founder at Forte