Ways to Grow Your Professional Network
- By FARZANA SURI |
- Mar 24 2020
Networking is all about establishing and fostering long-term relationships.
What does networking mean? A roomful of people? Business cards being swapped? Hard selling of people, products, and services? New business opportunities? New connections?
I’ve asked this question to hundreds of people, and they more or less have the same response. Some love networking, like me, and some loathe the very thought of the word. Whatever the case may be, networking plays a vital role in your growth curve and cannot be discounted, especially in a job search, whether you are looking for a new job or keen to progress in your current role. Scores of studies done on job search confirm that you are about ten times more likely to land a job opportunity when a referral has endorsed your application.
What is networking?
Networking is all about establishing and fostering long-term relationships. These mutually beneficial relationships with the people you meet can take place anytime, anywhere— whether you’re at the shopping mall, cheering your daughter at the Sports Day, visiting your friend at the hospital, or attending a work conference. Look around! There are networking opportunities everywhere.
Why is networking important?
◆ To establish new professional relationships and strengthen existing ones.
◆ To power up your knowledge of the industry, its people, processes, and to gain new insights.
◆ To lead the way into possible job opportunities, make valuable connections for referrals, and obtain key market information.
◆ To be top of mind by leveraging your personal brand and being remembered for your strengths and specialties. Networking is your personal brand booster.
◆ To deepen the trust in relationships. Online networking is not enough. Face-to-face meetups build strong, lasting relationships.
Who do you network with?
First of all, make a list of the 25 most important professional relationships in your life right now. These are the people you must stay connected with at least three to four times a year. Then, identify those contacts that have helped you or could be helpful in the future. Stay connected with them by following them on social media and lauding their achievements.
Seek out ways to widen your network. Networking opportunities can take place anywhere if you go beyond a fleeting ‘hello’ and nod to asking questions. Initiate a small talk. This is how meaningful relationships transpire. Have conversations with people wherever you are.
Attend industry-specific conferences and seminars to meet opinion leaders and colleagues. Your school or college alumni, past colleagues, family and friends groups also constitute people you can network with.
How to network?
Go with the networking style that suits you
You may wish to explore different networking strategies to figure out what works best for you. For instance, if you are an introvert, you may choose to network one-to-one over coffee or attend smaller, intimate events. And later, as your confidence grows, you could network at events with a large number of attendees.
Knowing who the event organisers, attendees, and speakers are will help you get familiar with the lay of the land. Also, going through their LinkedIn profiles and searching about them on Google would keep you abreast about the participants.
Start with the end in mind
What do you expect from a networking opportunity? Having a goal is imperative. The goal may be to connect with two new people in your industry or bring back one new insight to share with your colleagues.
Ask questions about them
While networking, the temptation is to use the opportunity to pitch yourself, and wax eloquence about your achievements and brilliance. These are turn-offs. Make the person you meet as the centre of your conversation by asking them open-ended questions using ‘why’ and ‘how’. Be patient; you will get your chance.
Be a Giver
Offer to help the people you meet. This is a sure-shot way to networking and getting referred. In case you are keen to connect with someone, then I recommend you to look out for a way to help that person. Giving is a remarkable way to stay top of mind.
Think out of the box
While industry events and conferences are a great way to network, how about going beyond traditional networking? You can volunteer at a sapling planting drive, attend the housing society Annual General Meeting, cheer or attend a marathon event and explore many more innovative platforms to network.
Incidentally, a client of mine once received a referral for a hiprofile role in a coveted organisation from a conversation with someone he had met at a funeral! There are stories of sales teams using Uber carpool and getting a foot in the door of companies through discussions on the long drive.
Have you ever tried networking with your family and friends? You may be surprised at how little your family and friends know about your work, and how little you may know about them. Use these meetups as opportunities to get to know them better and understand what they are looking for. Your sister-in-law’s neighbour could be the Head of Sales you’ve been dreaming of meeting! Do not underestimate your F&F network.
Networking Do’s and Don’ts in a nutshell
◆ Prepare your elevator pitch in less than ten words
◆ Carry your business cards
◆ Dress for the event. In case you are unsure, take a look at past photos
◆ Bring your enthusiasm and positivity with you
◆ Work the room
◆ Network online as well through social networking sites
◆ Demonstrate negative, egoistic, and aggressive behaviour while networking, even though you may have had a terrible day
◆ Go on a card-giving spree
◆ Ask for favours or sell your product/service
◆ Monopolise the conversation
◆ Be seen texting on your mobile phone or busy on calls
◆ Use negative body language
◆ Discuss politics, religion, or be too personal and inquisitive
◆ Show a lack of inclusiveness
Networking works when you get out there and work on it. And, it begins post-event through the follow-up, which is the most vital step in the networking process, and yet many seem to ignore it. It can begin with a simple LinkedIn request, a valuable share, a specific reason to reach out to the people you’ve met at an event or an endeavour to stay connected. The depth of your network depends on this key process. Networking is a process to meet and connect with people, not to get them to buy your products and services or sneak a favour. Also, while you are networking, “think people, not positions”. People remember how you made them feel. Relationships are built on feelings and emotions, and trust is built over time.
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