It was not until I left corporate life that I realised why networking was so important. For me, as for many managers, I was just too busy to give it much thought. However, launching myself into the world as a management consultant, I soon realised that ‘who you know’ was not only vitally important to me now, but would have greatly enhanced my career prospects had I done this sooner.
Many of us start out being quite good at networking. We know that to get started in our careers, we need to make connections with lots of people. Time passes, our career takes off and we get busy and networking takes second and then third place to the pressures of day-to-day work. Complacency sets in, until we find ourselves being made redundant or languishing in a career backwater. Then we find we are back to stage one of building a network from scratch. How much better would it be, if we had grown and maintained that network?
Why is networking important?
Effective networking can make a huge difference to your career prospects, both inside and outside your current role. Managers with good networking skills are seen as valuable to their organisations by bringing new knowledge and ideas. The ability to network well is an essential leadership skill – it adds value to you and your organisation. People who know how to network well have access to people, resources and information that will help them solve problems and create opportunities. This will enable you to enhance your value to your organisation and increase your access to potential opportunities outside your organisation.
Types of Network
– Operational –
Most managers are good at nurturing their operational network. This includes people who can help you get the job today done.
– Personal –
You may have noticed that managers who have an active network of people they socialise with somehow hear about opportunities you don’t. A good personal network enables you to meet a diverse group of people who can widen your horizons.
– Strategic –
These are people in similar and more senior roles from you, with whom you can share different professional perspectives, developments in your professional environment – especially if they are outside of your organisation. This includes fellow managers in your professional institute e.g. CMI or your OU alumni group.
Some networking tips
Don’t just collect names – It is the quality of your network that counts – not the quantity. Look to connect with people you like, people of influence both inside and outside your organisation and people who are good at networking already. Remember that it isn’t just the people in your direct network that matter, it is also who THEY know.
Networking is NOT about immediately asking for favours! This is one of the reasons why networking is sometimes considered a little unsavoury. Build the relationship first. Then when the time comes when you want to ask for help you, you will already feel comfortable enough with each other for it not to be a problem.
Networking is about forming relationships
Most of us are pretty bad at this! So, if you work at this, you will be remembered favourably. Building a networking relationship takes time. If you don’t have a lot of time, it is better to get to know a few people well than to just occasionally contact people. You want to be the first person they think of, not the last.
Give more than you receive, and do it first
You will be remembered for your generosity and although an immediate pay back is unlikely, remember that ‘paying it forward’ works.
Almost all cultures network, but some do it differently
If you choose to network across national and cultural boundaries, be aware of the difference but don’t let this put you off. Most good international networkers will know this, so are less likely to take offence. Politeness is the best approach and an apology if you get it wrong. Most people will respect this.
Don’t ignore Social Media Networking
Like it or not, many opportunities are only advertised on Social Media these days. Many HR departments will search social media to get more information about candidates. It is often the first thing a new contact will do too. If you only join one social network – make it LinkedIn. This is where professionals’ network and is a mine of information on people’s backgrounds, what they’re interested in and who THEY know. For more on social networking, see: http://www.cocreative.co.uk/9-time-saving-tips-social-networking-junkie
Behave like a host
If you decide to attend a face to face networking meeting, for example at your professional institute, act like a host. Offer to introduce people to each other. This makes you look confident, at ease with networking and someone worth meeting. Always take lots of business cards (you’d be surprised how many people forget to do this). And always follow up with people you meet.
If this sounds daunting, do what you feel comfortable with first and build your confidence until it becomes a natural part of your working life. Networking does take time and effort, but the benefits are well worth it. Your next great promotion, career move or business opportunity may only be a cup of coffee or email away. I wish you good luck with your networking!
Jacqui Hogan is the MD and a Management Consultant at Cocreative Ltd. She has been mentoring managers and directors to greater success since 2003. She is a Fellow of the Chartered Management Institute, an OU MBA Alumni and is an experienced networker. Jacqui can be contacted at:
LinkedIn at http://uk.linkedin.com/in/jacquihogan/