Tuesday, 5 October 2010

"Networking is key" - but what does that really mean?!

Many people you meet in the course of looking for a job will tell you how important networking is and how it is the key to a successful career. Not many will actually tell you what that MEANS from a practical point of view - how to start a network, how to develop it, and how to utilise it.  I want to outline for you some ideas to help you make a start.

Get Organised
If you really want to network successfully, you need to start treating it like a professional activity that you are undertaking right from the outset. Decide how you are going to keep track of your contracts from a practical point of view - will it be using an address book in your gmail account, a filofax, on your laptop, on your phone, LinkedIn, etc.  Don't feel obliged to use the most technologically-advanced option available - use the one that is going to work for you because of the way you like to work - this is the only way you will remain committed to it. Lots of executives still use a rolodex or file of business cards because that is what has worked for them over their careers.  Never assume that you will remember names, contact details, roles, etc, because you wont… capture everything.

The most successful Networkers… 
… are help providers. The people who have amazing networks across the globe of people who are willing to help them, are those who have helped others the most. If you make your overall objective to help as many other people as you can, in any way you can, then you yourself will have favours owed to you all over, that people will be keen to repay.

From a practical perspective, in order to be a great resource provider, again you need to be very organised. Not only does it mean having contacts and ideas to provide to people, it is about having practical things that you can provide. This includes, (but is not limited to), links to great websites you've seen on a huge variety of topics, articles you've read in the news/magazines, any presentations or advice you have been sent that might be of help to others, blogs/podcasts/lectures that you have downloaded or links to that might be of interest to others.

The key to being a great resource provider is not waiting to be asked for help. On overhearing someone mention something they are looking for, or a passing comment that someone makes that you have ideas on, pro-actively provide some of your collection in order to help them. Don't ask for anything in return, and don't make it your explicit objective to have loads of people owe you favours. But if you provide help to lots of people, inevitably, that will be the result. 

Be Culturally Aware Networking in different cultures can be fraught with unintended faux-pas. E.g. In many Asian countries, including Japan, it’s insulting to pocket a business card in front of the person who gave it to you, and even more insulting to write on it.  In the USA, networking is much more open than in the UK and you could find yourself being asked for a favour by someone you only met once quite frequently.

Practical Examples of things you could do to help enhance your network - If you've done an internship over the summer, offer to help the HR team / the school team at the company with their events on campus. This could include advising of the best venues, or trying to get some of the top students in your class to come along. An offer to do a presentation of what you did over the summer there could work. These activities will enhance your profile at the company and can help if you are going back there, or if you're not. They will also expose you to meeting a breadth of people inside the company and the university.
- Keep in touch with those you were involved with in various societies at Uni. They will go off into many different walks of life, any of which you could find yourself crossing paths with again.
 - LinkedIn has grown massively as a networking tool in the last eighteen months or so in the professional workplace. Make sure you set yourself up with a profile there asap and start linking in with those you know. It is a great way of keeping track of people when they move companies.

Remember, a professional network is not the same as a network of friends. You do not need to be on lets-go-for-drinks terms with everyone in your professional network. The terms you need are 'we are both responsible, successful people who have helped each other or worked together in the past in some small capacity, and we might well do it again in the future'. For most people that's enough, as long as there is give and take. So make sure you give, so that when the time comes, others are definitely willing to share with you too.

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