Posted by Robert Half on 15 September 2014
Being able to network effectively can give your career a real boost. If you're able to connect with other people throughout your industry sector, this can help secure promotions and jobs with other organisations. It might even increase your chances of taking on leadership roles in the future.
Without doubt, networking can be one of the most important tools available to you in your professional life. And here's the good part - these skills can developed over time So even if you are, by nature, a little more introverted than some of your peers, you can still build an effective personal brand and get to know the people who matter.
It's all about being willing to develop a voice, engage with your peers and establish a strong reputation in business. This will make others interested in getting to know you, and look at ways you may be able to help each other out.
Where should you be networking?
If you're serious about building stronger relationships, you need to think about the places networking takes place. Typically, there are a number of scenarios where professionals have the opportunity to mix and build their contact books.
First of all, there are casual contact networks, where you may meet people at industry conventions, conferences, fairs or social events. These industry mixers give professionals the chance to chat, share ideas and get to know each other in a non-formal setting. They tend to be attended by like-minded individuals, meaning there is plenty of scope to increase your visibility.
You might also want to consider the benefits of joining more formal networks - such as professionals associations. Becoming part of a knowledge network not only provides an opportunity to engage with people working within your industry, but also learn more about your chosen profession and industry in general. You may be able to access support and learning resources specific to your job, which can assist from a training and development perspective.
And of course, in the digital age, there are various opportunities to connect over the internet. As the ever-increasing popularity of sites such as LinkedIn and Yammer shows, professionals see plenty of value in having their own online profile that is linked to a CV and career history. The ease of using social media means it's easier than ever to track down industry contacts, establish new allegiances and even keep tabs on your rivals. Employers can use online networks to recruit new employees, while professionals can look for new work opportunities that may arise.
In order to make the most of networking opportunities, you should consider being active in all these areas - attending industry events, joining knowledge networks and establishing an online presence. You never know when the next opportunity to connect will come, or how valuable a contact will prove to be in the future. By spending a few minutes exchanging ideas with a stranger, or simply providing a sounding board for their ideas, you could sow the seeds for a long-lasting, mutually-beneficial relationship
Tips for networking effectively
Wherever or whenever you are networking, there are a number basic principles to abide. Following these tips can help you get more from your contacts and see a greater return on the time and effort you invest:
If you're not the most confident networker, it's important to practice. The more often you speak to other professionals, the better you'll become conversing with them, finding common ground and taking something positive from the experience. If necessary, plan conversation points in advance - this should safeguard against any uncomfortable silences.
To network effectively, you have to be committed. Turning up to two events a year, or updating your LinkedIn profile once in a blue moon isn't going to achieve anything. Unless you're active, available and highly visible, other people aren't going to be interested. The better-known you are, the more people will be interested in associating with you.
Create strong relationships
Just because you have somebody's business card or mobile phone number, you can't legitimately call them a business contact. It's important to get to know people properly, allowing you to establish each others' credibility. In order for a contact to be valuable, they must trust you enough to be willing to do business.
Identify mutual interests
You've got a much better chance of making a positive impression with someone you've just met if you have a natural conversation, rather than deliver a personal sales pitch. Try to learn a little bit about the person you are talking to and look for shared interests. If you have similar backgrounds or the same hobbies, it's all the more likely you'll be able to hit it off. It also gives you an ice-breaker next time you want to get in touch.
It makes sense to build as diverse a contact book as possible, networking with a host of different people, each of whom has their own skills, attributes and knowledge. You never know when a certain individual may be able to help you out, offering very specific assistance that nobody else you know can provide.
Stay in touch
Whether you arrange a meeting, make a phone call, send an email or post a comment on their online profile, it's important to service your professional relationships. Essentially, networking is about how well you get to know people, rather than how many people you have the details for. If contacts don't really know who you are or what you're about, the chances are they aren't going to help you.
There's more chance of a contact coming up trumps if you've gone out of your way to help them in the past. You might give them a positive review or reference, introduce them to somebody they want to meet, or offer practical assistance in your area of expertise. The more you are willing to give, the more you can expect to receive in return.
Send a reply
If somebody gets in touch, whether online or offline, make sure you always send a reply. Firstly, it's good manners, and secondly, you would want to receive the same treatment. Don't leave it too long either - you don't want to make the other person feel like an afterthought.