I first heard of networking as a “thing” when I was working as a District Manager for Laura Ashley in the USA. I managed a group of shops on the West Coast and of course the recruitment of store managers was one of my main responsibilities. When a store manager resigned and it was clear that we would need to look externally for her replacement, I called the HR department (as you do) to ask about placing an ad in the local press. (This was the 1990’s..). Her response was to tell me that it was my job to “network” at the local malls to identify suitable talent and then approach them myself. I was stunned but this was the normal approach to bringing in the best people. See how they work, see how their store operates, and build a relationship with them so that when/if you ever need to recruit, you have a list of viable candidates to approach. This seemed revolutionary to me and I think is very much the American way but the key lesson I learned is the need to be proactive about networking, and not wait until the crisis hits.
When I am coaching people who are looking for a new role, the prospect of pro-active networking often seems to strike fear into their hearts. It can feel in-authentic, as though you are only doing it because you need something (i.e. a job) and frankly hard work, either making small talk to people at events or plucking up the courage to call or message people you may not know very well or at all. In our normal world of work, where the structures are clear, our world of contacts and building relationships is well defined. Networking is new territory…
The Cambridge Dictionary even defines networking as “the activity of meeting people who might be useful to know, especially in your job” which makes it sound particularly mercenary. However we know that it’s the way the world works; we would much rather employ someone we know than a complete stranger and by the way, if you are over 50 it’s the most likely way to land your new job.
I’ve put together some thoughts on how best to approach this…
- Do review your LinkedIn profile. Get it up to date and take the trouble with the details and your photo. It really is the “go to” place for recruiters and head hunters. A tip though, please if you are inviting someone to connect, do give them a reason why. If you just spam people, you will probably be ignored. Seek advice on the best way to leverage your presence on LinkedIn. There is a lot of help out there.
- Webinars are a good way to start interacting with a new group. To start with if you are not confident you can “lurk”, just listen and not make a contribution but perhaps more importantly you can see how other people interact either verbally or via the “chat” function and make notes about what seems to work and what doesn’t. Do ensure you are presented professionally and that your background at home is tidy and that your lighting is good and have a few words to say about yourself in case there are introductions at the start of the meeting. It may also be worth investing in a good web-cam. It can make a big difference and allow for Zoom backgrounds.
- Networking isn’t just about the next job. It can be about helping you to do your current job better. Perhaps someone can teach you some new skills or sell you products that would improve your business performance?
- Job opportunities can come from left-field sometimes. A chance conversation with a friend or social contact could be important so do keep that in mind and let people know what you are looking for.
- What is the worst thing that can happen? I often ask myself this question when I’m about to approach someone new or step out of my comfort zone. Usually the answer is “they might say no”; it’s not going to be any more dramatic than that and that encourages me to pick up the phone, send the message or attend the breakfast meeting. As long as you are polite, professional, and clear about your reason for getting in touch, people will be supportive.
- Follow up is important but there is a fine line between a courteous thankyou note and a pushy approach so be thoughtful about your communications and if you are hesitating, save in draft for half an hour or so before you send.
- Be clear with people about your goal, what you are trying to achieve by attending the event, logging on to the webinar, or meeting someone for coffee. Invariably you will always learn something new, but you don’t have time to waste so try and make it work for you too.
- Finally, don’t wait until you are looking for a job to start your networking. Future career transitions will be much smoother if you have a consistent approach to networking over the course of your career. For example commit to attend one event a month. Be disciplined and be consistent. That is the way to make networking really worthwhile.
If you would like an introduction to some circles you could start networking with, send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
-Article by Claire Beasley