1 July 2015
Networking is more important than ever.
Recruitment data tells us that most people these days are finding jobs through networking. So if you're looking for a job, networking can be the key to unlocking your next job offer. Because of this, you should be more motivated than ever before to master the art of networking.
But what is networking, really?
Let's pause for a moment and ask what we actually mean when we say 'networking'.
Take a look at these examples below and decide which ones you think are good examples of networking:
- Attend an industry or careers event and find out more about the industry you are interested in and the graduate recruitment opportunities available.
- Meet with recruitment agencies to gain an understanding of the industries and roles they specialise in.
- Keep your LinkedIn profile up-to-date and connect with people you have met.
- Set yourself a goal to talk to two people you don't know at a social or work event.
- Register with an industry association or alumni and attend networking events.
- Organise social events at work or your internship (i.e. a morning tea fundraiser or diversity lunch).
- Chat to people in the kitchen while waiting for your lunch to warm up.
- Get involved with volunteering if there is a cause you are passionate about.
- Meet up with a friend from uni to see how their new job is going.
- Join a sporting club or cultural group to meet people with similar interests.
How many did you agree with? Do you think some are better forms of networking than others? The fact is, these are all valid networking opportunities and you can use each of them in your network building activities.
But I'm no good at it
You're not alone if you think your networking skills are weak. Don't worry, there are plenty of workshops and online tips available for improving your skills, including this article.
But before we get to the tips, let's understand why we downplay our networking abilities. The reason is that we don't see the whole picture.
There are many ways to network, but when we think of people who are good at it we tend to think of sales consultants, recruiters, politicians and business executives - people that can work the room, name drop and leave an event with a pocket full of business cards. Sure, this is networking, but it is only one aspect of the whole networking piece.
It's all about relationships
A good tip to remember is that networking isn't about securing a job or a deal. That can be one of many outcomes, but networking is essentially about building relationships and broadening your connections.
Connecting with people is the very core of networking.
When people prioritise seeking opportunities over making connections, they can complicate the networking process. They put pressure on themselves to secure an immediate result, such as a job offer. But how realistic would it be to go to one event and expect to have a job offer at the end of it? How realistic would it be to send someone a LinkedIn invite and receive a job offer from that one email? Of course, it could be your lucky day and something good may come of it, but the message here is not to put all your eggs in the one basket.
Also, you don't want to come across as aggressive or desperate, and this can sometimes be the case if you are seeking an immediate outcome from a networking conversation.
And relationships take time
No matter what your role or industry, there is always a benefit to growing your network. It's ineffective to simply switch the networking button on when you are looking for a job and then flick it off again once you have signed a new contract.
Networking is about forming relationships – it takes time and patience. As a result of this constant attention, opportunities may arise from the quality of connections you have established. Remember, it's usually the case, that quality outweighs quantity.
So let's get started
So if networking isn't your thing, just try these tips:
- Be authentic. Just be yourself and be interested in others. The conversation should flow from there.
- Get a networking buddy. If you know someone that is really good at networking, then ask if you can 'buddy' up with them at the next event or social function. This may be an opportunity to learn some new skills but you may also meet some new people through their connections as well.
- Form a connection. Remind yourself that networking is all about getting to know someone. Once you have an insight into the type of work they do, their interests and motivations, then it makes it easier to reconnect with them and build the relationship.
- Little steps. Set yourself some networking goals. For example, by the end of my internship I want 10 more LinkedIn connections. Or, at the next function I'm going to speak to 3 people I don't know and find out more about them. If this sounds daunting for you at first, then do it with a friend or a group of friends. Who knows, you may just make some new friends out of this challenge too!
- Be positive. If you find yourself doubting yourself or having negative thoughts such as "I can't do this", "I'm a nobody, why would they want to speak with me?" or "I'm going to embarrass myself", then revisit the above steps and remind yourself that it is just a conversation. Another strategy is to just focus on the other person and remember to ask open ended questions – you know, questions that they can't just answer with 'yes' or 'no'. You don't need to worry about yourself if you are focused on finding out more about them. Just be careful not to make it an interrogation or interview!
- Learn from the experience. Networking is like any skill, some people are naturally gifted, while others need to work harder at it. Always reflect after a conversation – ask yourself what worked well, what didn't and what would you do differently next time? If this is an area where you would really like to improve, then speak to people about it. You may be able to find a mentor or receive support from colleagues in this area.
- Use every opportunity. Internships or short contract positions are a great way to gain exposure to an industry or organisation, so you should also use this opportunity to broaden your network, even if you don't see yourself there permanently. Use every chance you get to meet more people, but remember to be authentic. Engage in conversation with staff in the kitchen whilst your lunch is warming, up or at the coffee machine in the morning. Reconnect with these people to learn more about them. By the end of your internship or contract, you should have made a number of strong connections, at various levels of the organisation and from various teams.
- Be proactive. If you are in an internship or contract position, then put your hand up to assist with other projects which will expose you to more people across different teams. Express your interest in being involved with the social committee or sports team and form connections socially. Organise something as simple as a morning tea or a fundraiser, this will show initiative and will provide a situation for people to connect. These connections are just as important, if not more so, than the ones you create on the job.
- Maintenance. Not only is it important to broaden your network, but it is just as important to maintain the relationships with the people in your network. A professional network is not dissimilar to a friendship network. How do you view friends that only contact you when they want something? This is exactly how your professional connections will start to feel if every time you contact them you are asking them for a job. You don't have to meet up for a drink every week, but you should definitely keep them updated with how things are progressing. Especially if they introduced you to someone, or if you have since met someone that could be of interest to them or their business in some way.
So don't waste any more time. Now is the time to start looking at ways to broadening your network by setting some very simple and achievable goals.
Julie Nunn is the Associate Director, Programs at Monash Professional Pathways. Julie is passionate about helping people reach their career goals. Studying and working in Japan early in her career, Julie developed a keen interest for Japanese culture and language. She understands first-hand how challenging it can be to work and communicate in a different culture. In Melbourne, she has worked with industry and professional bodies to develop and deliver industry pathway and professional development programs. Since joining Monash Professional Pathways she has been able to utlise her skills in language application and professional training to design career-ready programs which assist graduates transition into the workplace and strengthen their employability skills.