Our networking 101 series will cover every element of growing your database of business connections, from finding the right people to connect with, to working the room and building meaningful relationships. In the first edition, we look at how you can lay the groundwork for a strong, professional network by first looking at your own mindset.
So you’ve decided you want to build or grow a professional network. Congratulations – you’ve taken the first step towards a more fulfilling, opportunity-filled career. After all, research out of Harvard Business School shows that up to 85% of roles are allocated to people the hiring manager already knows.
Before you start reaching out and attending events, it’s worth taking a moment to tap into your emotions and mindset around networking, ironing out, in the process, any blockers or limiting beliefs you may have that will hold you back.
EXAMINING YOUR OUTLOOK
If you’re new to networking or dipping your toe back in the water after a period out of loop, you might be dealing with some negative feelings about the prospect. Don’t just brush these aside – examine them. Ask yourself the following questions:
- What is my true opinion about networking and how valuable it is to me personally? Do I need to do some research/speak to experienced networkers to better understand the benefits?
- From what has that opinion derived – past experiences good or bad?
- What’s my idea of a great networker?
- What’s my idea of a terrible networker?
“Whatever you have written down for the last question, it is important to know you will never be like this,” says Heather White from Smarter Networking. “Some people just get it wrong and use networking incorrectly. You don’t have to do that, so don’t let others put you off – remember to focus on your own definition of networking.”
HOW CONFIDENT ARE YOU FEELING?
There’s no doubt about it, taking yourself off to a networking event requires a big dollop of courage and a healthy dose of self-esteem. How confident are you feeling, on a scale of 1-10, about the prospect of building a network?
If you’re at the top of the scale, great. If there’s some room for improvement, ask yourself what it would take to nudge you just a few notches up the scale, e.g. pairing up with a friend or colleague, having a bit more small talk practice, working on your introductions or elevator pitch? Make a plan for how you’ll drive up your confidence over the coming weeks. And remember, the best way to build resilience to the fear of networking is to simply muster up the courage to step outside your comfort zone and go for it at a small-scale event.
WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FOR?
In the introduction, we highlighted the importance of networking for finding new roles. In reality, building a professional network is about a lot more than job hunting. In fact, it can take an extended period of relationship building for new positions to manifest through networking events. In many ways, the best time to start building your network is when you’re not looking for new employment. That way you’ve the opportunity to demonstrate who you are and what you do without the need for any hard sell when relationships are still in their formative stages.
Below is a list of reasons why you might have decided you need to start networking. Which ones resonate with you?
- Find a sponsor/mentor internally and or externally
- Find information (write down exactly what you want to know)
- Need training (what sort?)
- Get promoted (what does that next job look like?)
- Need specific experiences (such as?)
- Increase confidence
- Meet influencers who will introduce me to key people
- To get my face known in the industry (where and with whom?)
- To better understand my sector and the opportunities within it
- What else?
WHAT TYPES OF NETWORKS DO YOU NEED?
You have a clearer idea of what you’re looking for out of a network. Next, consider where those types of networks already exist that you can tap into For example, LinkedIn groups, internally within your own department, in another division of your organisation, at a local meet up? Ask yourself this same question for each of the items on your wish list.
WHO DO YOU ALREADY KNOW?
What types of people do you already know who can help with any of the above? Work through the following networking ‘types’ and ask yourself who’s already in your circle.
Connectors: they’re happy and willing to help make introductions.
Influencers: they have power and make decisions.
Mentors: they offer advice and support when you need it.
Sponsor: happy to act as a reference or talk-up your achievements.
Experts: have a lot of knowledge on key issues.
Exes: past colleagues or clients.
Friends or family: who also know your industry or useful people within it.
Review the list and ask yourself:
- Where there are imbalances (i.e. lots of names in one category, none or few in another)?
- Where do you most need to fill gaps?
- Which of these relationships have the most potential (refer back to your list of what you’re looking for) and why (e.g. they know me well, understand my strengths, have been an effective sponsor already, have a good rapport?
WHAT ROLE DO YOU PLAY WITHIN YOUR NETWORK?
Chances are you play various different roles to different individuals at different times. Have a look through the list of ‘types’ and ask yourself who might put you in each category. Who have you been a connector for? Who have you given great advice to? Who have you worked with previously who occasionally asks for favours or insight?
It’s important to realise that networking is about creating mutual benefits with your connections. “Don’t worry if you are not at the top of your game on any of the roles you have selected, you can work towards it,” says Heather White. “Once you are clear of your value to your contacts you will find that you will become part of their networks. Everything will come alive again!”
DRAFTING A PLAN
Look back over all your notes and record any action points that jump out, along with timelines. Look out for Networking 101 episode two, in which we’ll look at how you can start reaching out and preparing for networking events.