An Executive Tale: A Lesson in Effective Networking (Even if You Hate it)
by Jennifer Sigler | January 11, 2018 | Workhappy Blog
Are poor networking skills holding you back?
Celia was fortunate enough to get her first job a few months after graduating with her college degree, and has been with the same company for two years now.
In this time, she has become quite adept in her position, and her tasks are starting to feel easier to complete without much additional effort. In fact, Celia has started to realize that she is not challenged in the same way she once was.
Her boss’ “open-door policy” is less open than advertised, which makes initiating a conversation about professional development difficult.
Who you know — and who they can introduce you to — is just as important as what you know. And while Celia knows she needs to expand her network, she has so far dodged most opportunities to network, and at the events she has attended she pretty much stuck to herself.
This is because Celia hates networking. Not only is she shy by nature, but networking has always felt pushy to her — as if she was forcing herself on people, which is not her style. And yet Celia is realizing that by focusing solely on her job the last two years instead of a long-range plan, she has somewhat pushed herself into a corner with no one to reach out to.
Networking may seem, at times, like a glorified social hour; but it is essential to building your professional contacts and creating new opportunities for yourself.
Celia is realizing the hard way that while opportunity can come your way, more often than not you must create opportunity for yourself. Having superiors who are more focused on their own development than the development of their employees is sadly still the majority.
Attending networking events, communicating and sharing successes with your peers, and following senior members inside and outside your industry that you admire are crucial to both understanding what you want and to helping you achieve those goals.
Celia is an educated, skilled woman with a proven performance record. And yet she is a powerhouse who no one knows about.
To advance her career, she must put herself out there. She must build relationships. She must prove that she is worth noticing. She must position herself as an asset others want to connect with.
FIVE CODES OF EFFECTIVE NETWORKING:
- Be Authentic
Networking is uncomfortable for a lot of people. Actually, it’s uncomfortable for almost everyone — everyone but unexplainable extroverts who not only feel comfortable in social situations, but also thrive in them. (I say unexplainable, because I am definitely not one of them. These people mystify me with their social magic.) But it’s helpful to remind yourself that networking is an investment in yourself — and this investment is in the form of long-term relationships.
You cannot build lasting relationships by being insincere. If you try to resist who you truly are, you will stunt your own personal and professional growth.
The natural development of a relationship is built on finding common ground. If you find a common point of interest, your conversations will start to feel more natural and less stiff. Remember, the point is to connect with someone, not make small talk that will be forgotten later. If you talk only of their position, you will come across like a fan; you will feel like the conversation is forced, because it will be.
- Know Your Own Worth
People beginning their careers, like Celia, or leaders striving to make it to the executive level, can easily feel intimidated when networking with people in positions they see themselves in someday. But remember this:
You hold your own value.
You must believe that people have something to gain through connecting with you. Networking should be an opportunity for discovery. While you can’t will yourself into being an extrovert, concentrating on what you bring to the table will give you the confidence to attend networking events and actively engage with people.
- Follow Up
One of the worst things you can do is attend a networking event or party, collect a bunch of business cards, and then never contact the people you met. Building a lasting relationship requires more than one interaction, after all.
Send a short email to those you connected with within the few days following an initial meeting. Let them know how much you enjoyed the introduction, and possibly set up another meeting — even if it is just a phone call.
We all try to make a memorable impression when meeting someone new, but the truth is that people are busy and if you give them the opportunity to forget about you — they will.
By following up with new contacts, you remove this obstacle; you let them know that the encounter is important to you and that you also value their time as well.
- Invest in the Success of Others
Lasting relationships depend on both parties being invested in the success of the other. It is important to not only recognize your own skills, but to use your skills, connections and knowledge to benefit others.
This act of service deepens a relationship and will change the way you view networking; instead of feeling as if you are “pushing yourself” on someone as Celia did, you are able to feel a bigger purpose of helping another. Networking feels less selfish.
This is especially important for senior leaders to recognize, as their years in their profession have earned them knowledge and resources that have the potential to assist and encourage entry-level or marginalized professionals in their field.
However, those who are just beginning their careers should never feel they have nothing to offer — even though research shows this is the dominant inclination. This is why it is essential for those in management positions (like Celia’s boss) to take an active interest in their employees’ success and happiness.
Do you know what your employees’ goals are? Do you know that they show aptitude for? Where their talents lie? You should.
- Find A Mentor. Be a Mentor.
If you practice the above four codes of effective networking, you may find that you’ve attracted the attention of many possible mentors. Someone may approach you, but don’t be shy about approaching someone you admire. Senior leaders are constantly (or at least should be) looking for the next generation of talent.
It is also important not to underestimate the power of feeling useful. Senior leaders often become reflective at this point in their careers, and would welcome the opportunity to support a young professional build their own career.
Service has a natural cycle to it.
When you’ve achieved success in your industry or have devoted many years to your profession (oftentimes both) then you’ve certainly gained experience, knowledge and resources that you can share with others.
Networking can be an incredibly rewarding professional experience, and these days, quite frankly, a necessary component of professional success. Remember, nobody got to the top all by themselves.
Even people we admire hate putting themselves out there. Approach networking with an open mind and a willingness to learn.
If you focus on creating and maintaining authentic connections with people and get excited by how you can use your knowledge and resources to benefit others, you will find yourself looking forward to networking events. Or maybe not — but at the very least, networking will come easier to you.
Those who network are proven to advance faster, have a higher capacity for innovation and creativity, create more opportunities and have an increased level of job satisfaction.
And, after all, isn’t that the point?
Jennifer Sigler is a Senior Writer with The UpWrite Group. Send a message to services@TheUpWriteGroup.com to see how she can help enhance your corporate or personal brand.