Love it or loathe it, the art of professional networking is often essential if you are hoping to progress in your job.
These two podcasts look at both proactive and reactive networking, with tips on how to raise your profile both within in the workplace and on social media platforms.
This podcast explores what is meant by proactive networking. This involves taking charge of your career goals by actively pursuing opportunities to meet people who can further them. It also outlines the importance of social media to improving your profile and you're networking activities, specifically the professional networking platform LinkedIn.
This podcast explores what is meant by networking, the benefits of professional networking, and provides 3 tips on how to network effectively.
So far, I have focused on what I will refer to as ‘reactive networking’, which is being in a situation and hoping to meet relevant people. This is a bit random, which is not always a bad thing if you are looking for new options. However, you may wish to engage in some ‘proactive networking’. This involves taking charge of your career goals by actively pursuing opportunities to meet people who can further them.
Let’s consider an example. Say you work in a marketing role but you’re interested in moving into management consulting. You’ve done a bit of research and reading about it, but it hasn’t given you an in-depth picture of what it’s like. You don’t know any management consultants to speak to, and despite going to some general networking events, you haven’t had the fortune to meet any management consultants. What could you do?
Well, a good first step would be to map the people you do know already and identify which of them are more likely than you are to know someone working in a management consultancy – a friend of a friend. You could then ask your friend if they do know anyone like this, and to introduce you if they do. The podcast on ‘Evaluating your career options’ will give some more questions to ask to help generate potential contacts.
So far so good, but why stop there? Why not ask your new contact whether they, in turn, know other people in the management consultancy sector who you could speak to? If you continue this pattern of meeting relevant people, and asking them to put you in touch with other contacts, before you know it you’ll have a well-developed network of incredibly useful contacts across the sector you wish to enter. The technical term for this approach is ‘informational interviewing’ but you could otherwise think of it as ‘a coffee and a chat.’
There are a few things to remember. Firstly, you should always be polite and appreciative of anyone’s time. Remember that they are likely to be busy people, so be grateful that they have spared even a few minutes to speak to you. Have questions in mind that you want to ask – it’s your responsibility to drive the conversation. Check the ‘Evaluating your career options’ podcast again to get these questions. Only ask for a short amount of their time, and offer to meet wherever is most convenient for them. For example, this might be in the café next to their office or during their lunch break.
Always follow up with a thank-you card or email. This isn’t just polite; it also helps to keep you in their mind. Whenever you can, explain how a particular piece of advice or referral has helped you to make progress. This is positive feedback for your contact, which makes them feel useful and increases the chances that they will meet you again if you need it.
A challenge that you will face following on from all this networking you’ll be doing is how to keep track of all the people you meet, and it’s worthwhile getting organised from the start. In this age of social media, there are lots of online tools to help you with your networking activities. The most popular professional networking platform is LinkedIn. It allows you to maintain a connection to all your contacts whilst promoting your skills and experience via your profile. You can even make notes on meetings you’ve had with your LinkedIn connections.
LinkedIn can help you build your network as well. Instead of having to ask your existing contacts whether they will know anyone you would be interested in talking to, you can check out their list of connections. Once you have connected to new people, LinkedIn will suggest similar contacts. You can then search for particular jobs or organisations, and it will tell you if anyone in your network has connections to that area. You can join in discussion groups on a vast number of professional topics and interact with people who are interested in the same things.
When completing your LinkedIn profile, there are three main tips:
- Think about your profile headline. This will automatically default to your current job title, but you can change this to whatever you wish. So instead of just having your job title, why not include your career goal? For example: Aspiring communications professional.
- Your summary should be a 30-second commercial about yourself, identifying highlights of your experience which relate to your desired career area, and focusing on what you have to offer and what you are looking for.
- Don’t overlook the skills and experience section. This should include technical skills, such as programming languages, lab techniques, foreign languages and other expertise. The words you put in here will affect how you come up in searches.
Good luck and remember that networking is a skill which, like other skills, improves with practise. So get out there and give it a try.
The recognition of networking as a key professional activity stems from the numerous beneficial outcomes that can result of having a professional network. One benefit is an increased awareness of, and access to, unadvertised opportunities, often referred to as a ‘hidden jobs market’. Another benefit is reputation building. You may be the best in the world at whatever it is you do, but if no-one knows, you won’t get the recognition you deserve. It is impossible for recruiters to forget what they already know about candidates in hiring decisions.
But the main benefit of networking is access to useful information. In the podcast on ‘Evaluating your options’, we explain how asking people the right questions can help you to make better career decisions and increase your chances of making a good impression. Even if you are not job hunting, networking can make you more effective in the workplace.
Interacting with a wide range of people exposes you to different ideas, perspectives and ways of doing things, which can help you to be more creative or save you time and money. Indeed, why waste time trying to solve a problem if someone else has already thought of a solution?
Networking can also help you maintain motivation. Most of us remember that feeling of relief and encouragement when we discover that we were not the only ones who struggled with a particular difficulty. Networking can also help you to identify fellow travellers and inspirational role models.
Not many people would disagree that networking brings many benefits, but despite this it is very common for professionals who are otherwise confident in their careers to shy away from it. How many of you experience a wave of depression or anxiety when you see the words ‘time for networking’ on a conference programme? If you are one of those individuals: fear not. In the rest of this podcast, we will give you some tips to help you feel more confident and to make the best of your networking opportunities.
Step one is to think about what outcomes you would like from networking, for example you may be at the beginning of considering a career change and need information about the realities of a sector or job role that interests you. Well, what would you like to know? Examples could be companies that are currently recruiting, how employers advertise, what they like to see on CVs etc.
Spend some time planning your questions beforehand and you shouldn't feel the anxiety that comes from not knowing what to say. The podcast on evaluating your career options has more advice on asking good questions. A word of warning though: if you go in with just one mission, you are likely to have a disappointing experience if you don't meet the right person or if they can't help you in the way that you would like.
However, if you are aware of the different possible benefits of networking and you assume that every conversation will lead to something useful in at least one of these areas, even if it's not what you were expecting, you are much more likely to get quick wins from networking, which should make it easier to make you keep doing it.
Step two is to think about how you would like people to remember you after the conversation. Some of this will be down to the way you act and the questions you ask, but a lot of it will depend on the way you describe yourself, and the stories and anecdotes you drop into the conversation.
Let's imagine you have met someone new, and they say 'What do you do?' You could just tell them your job title, for example 'I am a procurement manager in the health sector'. But there's more potential if you take a different approach. Instead of just giving people your title, describe your function. What do you achieve in the role? For example, 'I help hospitals get the best value for money when they buy in products and services'. It's a much more interesting way of describing yourself, and it sneaks in the image of you as a useful person.
Approaching self-description in this way also makes it easier for you if you want to switch career or sector. All you need to do is add a little bit of past or future to your story. Again, for example, 'For the past ten years I've been helping hospitals to get the best value for money when they buy in products and services, and now I'm looking for opportunities to do a similar thing for commercial organisations'.
You should also have some quick stories ready to back up your headline claims. Planning these stories will allow you to spend some time reflecting on your experience, and how your career has developed over time. If you haven't already done this, then take some time to think this through. Think about the functions you have served and the successes you have achieved, that you would like to continue into the future.
It goes without saying that you should be flexible in how you use these stories when speaking to different people. I'm sure we can all bring to mind someone we've met who has waffled on and bored us. Remember to be sensitive to body-language cues when you're in that situation, and adapt the quantity of what you say accordingly. If in doubt, err on the side of caution — they can always ask follow-up questions.
Step three involves practising having conversations with strangers and getting used to asking questions, listening to what they say and asking follow-up questions. The more you practise doing this in situations where it doesn't really matter, the easier you will find it in situations where it does matter.
Look for opportunities to initiate conversations with people in your day-to-day life. If the conversation fizzles out, don't worry; but do spend a bit of time thinking about what you could do next time, to try to keep it going a bit longer.