Networking is arguably the most important thing you can do for your career. People are social creatures - trust and connection with others are a foundation of succeeding in society. Recruitment company Michael Page states networking is “vital” to career growth, and that “good industry networking has a basis of trust and support – and can mean the difference between a mediocre career and a phenomenal career.” As Jaime Alvarez points out on LinkedIn, networking opens the doors to new opportunities, helps other people in their endeavours, and expands one’s knowledge and perspective on the world.
Networking doesn't come naturally to everyone. It can be a daunting task, especially for those who are introverted or new to any given industry.
The problem is that us Kiwis don’t really enjoy networking. We suffer from a tall poppy epidemic, and the thought of talking up your fantastic work experience and passion for your career with a stranger makes many of us wince. Yet our aversion to talking shop outside of work hours needs to change. We are quite literally shooting ourselves in the foot if we continue to put networking in the “it’s not really my thing” basket.
New Zealand is a small country. You’ve likely heard people joke about the “two degrees of separation” here, we even have a telecommunications company paying homage to that. Although no one can confirm if that is actually true, what is true is that everyone knows someone who knows someone you know. Trust us. Your network and your reputation are even more important when you live in a country the size of many cities.
The most loyal clients, customers, and partners often come from extended networks, as when someone trusts your integrity – they will trust they can do business with you.
Bearing that in mind, we thought it apt to compile some tips on how to handle those awkward networking conversations.
How to Network Like a Pro
Firstly, let’s go over the basics – good networking comprises these three steps.
Reach out to people you’d like to connect with
Make a good impression and engage with them
Follow up (this step is critical!)
It’s literally that simple. But, like many things in life, just because it’s simple doesn’t mean it’s easy.
Body language or non-verbal communication is said to have 65% to 93% more influence than actual words. Basically, how we say things, not what we say, matters.
When networking, people can get overwhelmed by the concept of not knowing what to say. It pays to remember that this doesn’t really matter. What others will pick up on is your energy, your tonality, and your body language. All these non-verbal cues can make you alluring or off-putting.
Focus on being friendly and warm, remember you are speaking with another human being who just wants to be treated with kindness. Be polite and conscientious of the other person and respect that they are sharing their knowledge and time with you. A smile also goes a long way.
Ask Questions That You Can’t Easily Find the Answer To
If you have arranged to meet with someone for a coffee and chat about work, know that they are giving their time. A mistake people often make when networking is treating things a little too informally.
This may seem counter-intuitive to the advice we just gave along the lines of “how you say things, not what” is more important, yet it is true. Although you should definitely focus on your energy and delivery when networking with a new contact, it is also critical to make sure you aren’t wasting their time.
A good way to do this is through research. Before you meet with a Senior Product Manager or Chief Marketing Officer, do your due diligence. If you are seeking advice and perhaps mentorship from a person, you want to come prepared to the initial conversation with unique questions that specifically speak to their experiences. Stalk their LinkedIn and read any articles or literature they have published. Everyone has invaluable advice to offer you based upon their career experiences – dig into this, and for the love of God, please don’t ask them something you can find the answer to on google!
Authenticity is crucial when it comes to networking. Avoid being too pushy or sales-oriented in your approach. Instead, focus on building genuine relationships with people who share similar interests and values. This can help you establish long-term connections that are based on mutual trust and respect. Be yourself and let your personality shine through. Remember, people do business with people they like and trust.
Don’t Give Someone a Headache
A good networking question should prompt curious and critical thought in the person you are talking with, yet it shouldn’t cause their brow to furrow aggressively. Don’t interrogate people, but in the same vein, don’t ask questions that are too easy. Basically, strike the balance and ask questions that prove your genuine interest in their life and line of work. For instance, asking a question such as “what do you enjoy about your work and what do you struggle with?” shows a direct interest in that person and allows them to really reflect on their situation.
Great networking requires long term investment. You want to foster relationships for the future that will expand your horizons. This means mixing with a diverse range of people you may already know such as former and current colleagues and classmates, former professors and tutors, recruiters, and relevant professionals on LinkedIn. It also means joining industry groups or associations, and online communities, and partaking in conferences, networking events and industry meet-ups.
If you can foster and maintain a network of contacts in different fields and roles, you are building yourself a metaphorical net to support you through your career.
Following through and maintaining contact is crucial to the potential of your network to help you out. People want to help others that they like, if you make a continuous effort with others and offer them your time, you can be sure good things will swing back your way. Think of it like a pendulum, what goes one way will go the other. You get what you give.
Networking takes time and effort. Don't expect to see immediate results or land your dream job after attending one event. Building a strong network of contacts takes patience and perseverance. Focus on building genuine relationships with people and offering value to them. Be patient, and the results will follow.
Question Do’s and Don’ts
Here’s a list of questions to help you out in those awkward initial networking conversations. Do ask questions along the lines of:
What is the most interesting aspect of your job, and what are you most passionate about?
What advice would you give your younger self before embarking on this career path?
What do you dream of for your future?
What is the most challenging part of your job?
How have your responsibilities changed as you have progressed through your career and how have you managed them?
What books, journals, speakers, or other people have influenced your way of thinking and working?
What are the parts of your role that least intrigue you?
What motivates you in your work?
What professional associations do you find valuable and why?
What type of professional and personal skills does it take to succeed in your line of work?
What do you see as the major challenges in your field and industry?
There are some classic networking faux-pas one can make that don’t leave such a good impression. Avoid:
Yes or no questions are never good as they don’t invite a conversation, rather they shut down any possibility of one occurring.
Don’t ask anything too personal that will make someone feel uncomfortable.
Try not to ask random questions unrelated to your shared interest (work) – especially regarding politics.
Don’t be rude, no one wants to help a jerk.
Be Prepared to Talk About Yourself
It pays to remember when networking that you will get asked questions too. Depending on who you are chatting with you could be on the questioning end of some light, personal, easy-to-answer questions or you may receive a barrage of hard-hitting quasi-interview ones. Be prepared to talk about who you are and what you do, how you feel about your job and company and what challenges you are dealing with. Contrarily, have some answers in your back pocket regarding your feelings towards the other person’s company, and what you would like to learn from them.
The Bottom Line: How to Network With Ease
Networking is a crucial skill that can help you achieve your career goals and establish yourself as a credible professional in your field.
A necessity – at some point you must face the music. That tune you have been avoiding goes along the lines of “networking is absolutely necessary!” The sooner you can make your peace with the need to work for career growth, the sooner you can get stuck into it.
Be human and be kind – people will help those that they like. If you treat people with kindness and are genuinely interested in their lives, chances are you’ll make some solid connections.
Follow up – reach out to people and offer your support if you can. Don’t be that person who has one coffee and never emails again.
Do your research – know who you’re talking to and have an idea of how they can help you. Ask questions that aren’t a waste of people’s time.
So, don't be afraid to put yourself out there, attend networking events, and connect with professionals in your industry. With a little effort and persistence, you can network like a pro and achieve great things in your career and life.
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