Our ability to mix and mingle with people is a critical life skill. Being able to confidently walk into a room of people and start a conversation will make a difference to many of life’s experiences. Networking has been described as “socialising with a purpose”. It is not about self-promotion or getting things from people. Networking is about establishing connections with people.
Being able to network effectively means you will be able to:
- Attend and enjoy more functions.
- Build relationships with people who may become friends, colleagues, mentors, sources of useful information (like job opportunities).
- Be more influential with people that matter.
- Become more visible and build your reputation.
- Collect useful information about what is going on in your industry and profession.
- Spot opportunities relevant to your work or career.
- Be renewed and affirmed by mixing with like-minded people – your ‘tribe’.
Here are ten tips on attending meetings, functions and PD events:
- Take your business cards if you have one and/or use a readable name tag.
- Introduce yourself with confidence.
- Greet people with a smile, make eye contact, use a firm handshake.
- Look out for first-timers and help them to be comfortable.
- Sit with people you don’t know.
- Always RSVP on time and send apologies if not attending.
- Turn off your mobile phone.
- Have quality conversations rather than ‘working the room’.
- Give people your full attention so they feel important.
- Follow up by meeting any commitments made.
Part of managing your career is to think strategically about networking and to construct a networking plan by answering these questions:
- Why do you need to network? What purpose will it serve?
- What people do you need to network with?
- What events or forums do you need to attend to serve your purpose and/or meet these people?
- What preparations do you need to make in order to network effectively? (e.g. have a business card, name tag, introduction, small talk skills)
- How will you monitor progress with your plan?
Here are six ideas for building networks:
1. Join public service networks. There are groups with special purposes that you could be participating in as part of building your visibility, reputation and credibility. These groups include networks for graduates, special interest groups, and specific roles such as ethics officers. Add these networks to your résumé.
2. Join industry and professional associations and become an active member. Take on an executive role, participate in professional development activities, attend conferences. Include your memberships and leadership roles on your résumé.
3. Foster relationships with referees, both past and present. Relying on your boss for a reference can be risky. They can move on, you may not get along with them, or they might not take a professional approach to reference writing. To safeguard yourself against these risks, build relationships with a range of people who could potentially speak favourably on your behalf. These people include your boss’ boss, managers in other areas, clients and stakeholders. Keep in touch with past managers who thought well of you as you may need to call on them again.
4. Become known around your organisation. You never know when restructures and downsizing will take place. Be visible in your organisation. Let other sections know what you do, what your section does, and how you add value.
5. Attend meetings and be an active participant. Meetings can be a waste of time if poorly managed. On the other hand, being present may be to your advantage. Being an active participant builds your visibility. You don’t have to hog the airwaves. Better to say a little of value that is heard than to talk for the sake of talking and have people tune out.
6. Contribute to committees and working groups. If you find yourself on a committee then be an active player who adds value and can be relied on to meet commitments. Reputations can be built through such connections.