To be honest, the word ‘networking’ is succinct, well recognised but vastly misunderstood. The mere word sends shivers down many peoples’ spines with thoughts of smokey rooms, old school ties and little black books. I would like, once and for all, to blow the lid off this myth. Networking is an essential and enjoyable business skill which should be given a very high priority.
Networking is about the building of relationships where there is some mutual benefit to be had. At work we do that internally all the time don’t we? – I would argue that you could not be successful without building and maintaining such relationships, so we get good at it; very good. At home we meet new people and use social networking sites to keep in touch and exchange information. I think that we are a generation that enjoys the benefits that all these scenarios can bring – so why the dread of ‘business’ networking?
I think the key to unlocking this problem is being clear on what you are looking to gain from the relationship. In my view networking is about the exchange of ideas and favours, so let’s look at a few situations where networking is essential.
If I interview an HR professional who does not have a good external network, I’m immediately concerned about how innovative or creative they are – and innovation is a key HR competency these days. Sure, you can gain creative ideas internally but it is so beneficial to benchmark and cultivate ideas from businesses and cultures that are different, thereby challenging your thinking and leading to less traditional solutions. Businesses need fresh input and a healthy external network will give you access to such organisations.
How much more confident are you in taking on a supplier or an employee who has been personally recommended to you? Using your contacts to confirm or add to your own thoughts is extremely powerful. There are commercial cost implications of making the correct choice, so your networking activity can directly contribute towards the bottom line.
It is estimated that about 55% of vacancies are filled through unadvertised routes. In this market people are happier to hire people who are recommended to them and (let’s be honest) don’t cost them the head-hunter’s fee. If you are looking for a new role, you must be proactive in following up your contacts. Don’t ask people for a job; ask for their advice. Most people are really happy to help with advice and guidance and some will actually introduce you to prospective employers.
How do we build networking relationships?
Remember to help others
Networking is two-way, so remember that it’s not all about you. Successful networkers look for opportunities to help others – the return favours will come.
Create win-win situations
Spot opportunities to connect other people together. It is so appreciated if you make the first move. Win-win situations will result in longer, stronger relationships and more opportunities in the future.
Know what you’re looking for
Not everyone is the ideal person to have in your network. Take the time to figure out the characteristics or skills of the ideal person who you would like to be networked with – but think laterally; people on the fringes of your network often have very interesting perspectives.
Don’t wait for others to come to you. Find ways to get to know others and be assertive with finding win-win situations. Successful networkers will be very proactive – it is part of their weekly routine. Reach out to others that you have identified as possible members of your network and get to know them. If you sit back and wait for others, you’re not likely to get much out of networking.
Be in the right places
Part of building a strong network is knowing where to be, and where to find others. Networking takes effort. You maximise the results of your efforts when you’re at the right place at the right time. Find out where other successful people in your field go (this can be a physical location, or it can be an online location that permits networking). Once you’ve found something that works for you, stick with it.
Building relationships is second nature to most of us. Plan it, be generous and enjoy the breadth of new input that will undoubtedly come from such activity. Use LinkedIn or any other tool to assist. Just remember that everyone knows that they need to network – if you start the ball rolling the recipient will more-than-likely be delighted to jump on the band wagon. What’s the worst that can happen?