We have all heard about the importance of networking and know that there is much truth behind the saying “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” This advice applies to those who are seeking a new job, but did you realise that networking is also about who knows you?
To network effectively, there are some simple steps you can take to make it a useful and even enjoyable process.
STEP #1: Change your mindset.
See the benefits of networking and not think of it as being a negative action. Networking is about getting to know people – people you already know, people you are yet to know and people you ought to know. In truth, we are already networking every day at work and in social situations. When you introduce yourself to a fellow parent at your child’s kindergarten, when you meet a friend of a colleague at lunch or when you strike up a conversation with a person in line at a supermarket. Everyone is a potential networking contact and someone you can connect with for professional reasons. Be being open to connecting and helping others, you are likely to notice a significant improvement in your job search process.
STEP #2: Know your people.
Make a mental list of the people that you know. It should include family members, friends, neighbours, colleagues, former colleagues, ex-classmates and business associates whom you have met with, in the past. Go through your social media accounts (Including LinkedIn) and write down names of people whom you think, may have networks you can tap on. These are your primary contacts. Each of them may have a network that you can tap on or connect to, which may lead you to an available job.
Briefly write down this list and make a note of the possible areas in which you might be able to seek support. There is a chance that a few of these people would be able to provide the right career advice or refer you to a potential job opening.
If you are reconnecting with contacts with whom you have not been in touch recently, you can restart the relationship with more generic topics, such as asking them if they have plans for the upcoming holidays or just sharing news about a common friend etc. Invite them to connect on LinkedIn as a way to keep the connection alive.
Now that you have realised that you do have potential networks to tap on, it is time to get started.
STEP #3: Know yourself.
Be clear about a few things before you begin ‘networking with a purpose’. Some people describe networking as ‘making a new friend’, but networking is more than that. When networking, there is usually an exchange of information for a purpose – so it will be good if you are aware of what your purpose is, and what exactly you can offer to someone else, to fulfil their purpose.
Know what you are asking for and what you can offer to the connection. Be aware of your objectives – so that you can understand what a connection can potentially offer you. Likewise, know what your skills, strengths and experience that you can offer your connection, in order for the relationship to be mutually beneficial.
STEP #4: Take the first step – reach out.
“You should make the first move” is great networking advice. Adopting the mindset of ‘no pain, no gain’ can help you overcome any fear or shyness from reaching out to contacts that you are not very familiar with.
Whether you start off connecting via email, a phone call or a WhatsApp message, the same principles apply. Be friendly, approachable and polite. Approach your connection, as you would when making a new friend – with a positive tone of voice (or messaging). Be mindful of their time and availability and do not assume that they are eager to help you or obliged to reply to you. As long as you maintain a polite, accommodating tone in your communication, you are likely to be able to have a short exchange with your intended connection.
Do not take rejections or no-replies personally. There are many reasons why people do not take up an offer to connect – so just move on to the next potential connection on your list. Remember, the first move is always yours to make.
When approaching someone in-person, start off by finding ‘common ground’ – be positive in your approach. Start off by briefly introducing yourself and with a non-threatening question that the other party is able to answer. Some typical good ways to start off an in-person conversation would be:
Showing interest in the other person
“So what do you do?”, “Are you also in the (finance) industry?”, “Hi! You must be friends with (Name of organiser). My name is (Your own name). Nice to meet you.”
Connecting via the event you are both at
“What brought you here today?”, “It’s so cold (or hot) in here.”, “What a lovely venue. Have you been here before?”, “That was quite a good talk. What did you think of it?”, “I cannot stop eating these muffins. They are really good. Have you tried one?”, “It was quite hard to find this location. Did you manage to make your way to this venue easily?”
Sharing perspective about current news
“Covid has really changed the way of working. It was nice to hear the speaker’s perspectives. What is your opinion?”, “What a week it has been – so many changes to the new regulations on public dining.”,
Using humour to get started
“I cannot believe how under-dressed I am for this event (laugh). But at least I am here.”, “These brownies are good. I only came for them (laugh). By the way, nice to meet you. My name is …..”
Being candid about your own fears
“Whoa! These networking events can be so crazy. Mind if I join you over here where it’s a little quieter?”, “Networking is kind of hard eh, but I thought it would be good to introduce myself. Nice to meet you.”
Compliment someone about their clothes, accessories
“I love your bag. It’s really chic. Where did you get it from?”, “What a lovely shirt. I have always wanted this colour.”
STEP #5: Start with the relationship, not the resume.
Creating a connection should be your focus, do not hard sell by asking for a job opportunity immediately. Make a connection before asking for anything – and you can do this by showing interest in the other party’s knowledge, experience and advice. Focus on knowing the other person and make your initial interactions about him/ her first. Once the connection is slightly more established, you can then request a link up to a job opportunity or another connection.
Always be considerate of your connection’s time – be aware that many executives are busy and if they seem very tied up with engagements (virtually or in-person), accommodate their availability by asking him/ her to suggest a better time to connect, speak or meet up. Learn to read body language, at a physical event. If the other party appears to take steps back or is very distracted, it might be good to cut short the conversation and ask to follow up with an email.
Know that it takes time to build up the relationship, so factor time into your networking plans. Assuming you plan to make 100 connections per month, that equates to 3-5 contacts per day. As you take time to nurture the connections, focus on updating your resume, cleaning up your LinkedIn profile and researching the companies and roles you are keen to apply to.
STEP #6: If you have to talk about jobs, then promise the future.
Sometimes due to the urgency of the situation, such as an upcoming interview requiring you to reach out to a long-lost contact to ask for some advice, it may be hard to ease into the reconnection immediately. In such a scenario, take a chance by apologising for not keeping in touch before making your ask. Usually these ‘emergency’ situations are likely to require a non-in-person outreach, so word your email or phone conversations politely.
Regardless of the response you get, it will be advisable to make sure you keep in touch with this contact in future. If you receive help, remember to circle back to them, letting them know how your search turned out. If you did not receive help, you can still circle back, without an agenda this time, so you can still build a connection with this person and keep in touch. This will allow you to be able to reach out again in the future when you should need something.
STEP #7: Make yourself known
With the availability of social networking platforms such as LinkedIn, it is no longer difficult to build a personal brand online. By highlighting your skills, talents and past projects on your social media profile, you can showcase what are some possible ways you can benefit your networking partner. Having a clear personal brand also helps you to stand out when approaching potential networking contacts who are not familiar with you. When dropping an introductory email, including your LinkedIn profile in your signature will allow the other person to have a better idea of how they can support you or offer you advice, if that is your query.
STEP #8: Think long-term.
Effective networking should feel genuine – and the person you are reaching out should not think that you are imposing on them or that you are reaching out only because you need something from them. The best way to achieve such a competent level of networking is to reach out even when you do not have a specific purpose or agenda in mind. This is a long-term mindset for networking.
Develop a habit of being in touch regularly – and keep in touch with your network through social media (especially LinkedIn) to ensure that your connections are not too shocked when you do finally reach out to seek help.
Networking is challenging for many of us, but with practice, it can get easier and become a part of your career development plans for building your lifelong career path.
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