How can networking help your career?
Broadly speaking, networking is building and maintaining professional relationships with others in the industry. It may seem unnatural to forge friendships to fulfil your own aspirations but effective networking can be mutually beneficial to everyone involved. Working as a temp gives you the advantage of liaising with a broad and ever changing circle of industry professionals and you should leverage your position by building as many relationships as you can.
It's a simple law of human nature that people like familiarity – employers prefer to hire people they know, or who come highly recommended by others whose opinions they value. As a contractor you cannot afford to miss opportunities to meet people who may have the ability to enhance your professional prospects.
Talent and hard work are important factors in building a successful career, but without the right contacts who will know what a fantastic candidate you are? Increasing your professional network can do wonders for your career. But where do you start?
Virtual networking - look online
Professional social network LinkedIn has 175 million users globally and creating an account takes just minutes. Start with the basics – add your name, job title, employment history and contact details. Ensure you add an appropriate photograph to your profile too – people like connecting with people, a company logo or no picture may deter individuals from connecting. Your LinkedIn profile acts as a live CV so fill it with your skills and expertise and start making connections. Begin with people you work with – former colleagues, classmates and friends – you’re networking already. And when you meet a new acquaintance connect with them online too. Join industry-related groups to further extend your network – not only will this put you in touch with fellow professionals, but it will also allow you to comment on discussions and start to be seen as an expert in your field. The connections made through LinkedIn will stay with you throughout your working life so make good use of it as networking tool.
Although not designed as a professional platform, Twitter can prove useful when looking for employment. Follow companies you are interested in working for and consultancies that might be able to help find you work. Expand on your profile so people know who you are and what you do. In theory, the more people you follow – the more follow you, so remember to keep your tweets clean and professional. Twitter can also keep you in the loop with regards to upcoming events where you can put your face-to-face networking skills into action.
Face to face - offline networks
When meeting new people – at networking events or meetings – remember first impressions count. Dress well and be polite. Even if you are shy or perhaps feel apprehensive walking into a room full of unfamiliar faces, approach a small group and introduce yourself. And if you are ever stuck for a topic of conversation, ask your new acquaintances about themselves – generally people love to talk about what they do and it’s a great conversation opener. You won’t click with everybody you meet but swap business cards with those who may be able to help you or vice versa and connect with them on LinkedIn after the event.
Live interaction - networking events
- Go it alone – it may be tempting to attend events with colleagues or friends for moral support, but arriving solo increases your chances of meeting new people. Without a safety net of familiar faces, you are more likely to approach strangers. And new contacts will feel more comfortable reaching out to you if you are on your own.
- Do your research – take some time to investigate the organisation that is hosting the event, the sponsors, and any guest speakers. By discovering who is likely to be attending, you will be able to approach people who genuinely interest you and impress them with your understanding of their work.
- First impressions are everything – ensure that you present yourself well and appear confident. Have business cards to hand to demonstrate professionalism and remember to smile.
- Practice your elevator pitch – introduce yourself efficiently by providing a short summary of you and your work. Your conversation openers, although rehearsed, should sound natural. Beyond initial introductions, it is imperative that you are up to date with current affairs and industry trends so that you can offer intelligent opinion on any subjects that arise.
- Ask questions – and listen to the answers. It's here that you will gather intelligence which may point you in the direction of a future placement. In small groups an inquisitive disposition will make you seem switched on and passionate. And by asking intelligent questions in forums and meetings you could make a lasting impression on the group. When speaking with new contacts, remember details which will provide useful opening lines next time you meet.
- Remember networking is a two way street – you must consider what you can give back as well as what you can take from industry events. If you approach the networking process in terms of ‘giving’, you will develop genuine relationships faster than those on the take.
- Don’t forget the follow up – its great meeting new people but you should always follow real life introductions with a LinkedIn invite or a ‘thank-you’ email. Nurturing relationships is just as important as building them, and you should set aside some time each week to connect with your network – even if you are not actively searching for your next assignment.
Networking both on and offline is essential for effective career management, keeping ahead of industry trends and making allies in the business world – particularly for temporary contractors and interims. Start networking today – who knows what paths your new relationships may take you on?