How smart networking can help your career

All too often I hear people dismiss networking as a “necessary evil” that’s nevertheless an important part of their company’s business development strategy. I may wholeheartedly disagree with the term “evil” but it’s always good to hear networking being referred to as “necessary.”

Brave New World

With technology accelerating change in the business environments we all operate in, and the concept of a job or even career “for life” becoming a distant memory, networking has never been more important - not just for business growth - but also for individual career development and progression.

Additionally, the rise and popularisation of “portfolio careers” which see people holding a mix of positions concurrently or transferring their expertise between sectors, reinforces this need to make networking a priority.

How does networking fit in?

As you move from position to position and maybe between sectors - your personal brand - your contacts, relationships, knowledge and opinions are what you take with you.

Two important points to consider are - today, many of the jobs available are never advertised, something commonly referred to as the hidden jobs market, and that people hire people that they like.

Networking addresses both of these – it’s how the business community you operate in (both in real life and via social media) get to know, like and trust you over time.

Networking and the hidden jobs market

A vacancy costs organisations both time and money. The work that has to be covered falls to the existing workforce and traditional methods of recruitment via agencies and advertising is expensive and doesn’t always bear fruit.

More companies are now looking internally or within their network of contacts to find candidates that they can quietly approach. It makes perfect sense to try and land someone that they already have a relationship with and, more importantly, someone that they know will fit into their culture and existing team.

Digging a well before you’re thirsty

The vast majority of people only turn to networking and thinking about their personal brand when they’ve lost their job. This means that they approach networking from a position of relative weakness.

A far better tactic is to make networking a part of your everyday working life so that you have a vibrant network of contacts to fall back on should you need it.

As well the Buddhist “digging a well” saying, I like to use the analogy of an allotment. Your network needs to seeded, weeded and watered regularly. Do this and it will provide you with a harvest of opportunities throughout your life.

The importance of likeability

Likeability is a key attribute that will determine much of your experience of life. Your ability to land your dream job is no exception.

After all, effective networking begins not with what you can get out of an event, group or individual contact, but what you can do for other people.
So spend time thinking about likeability - how can you be helpful? How can you become known as the “go-to” person in your particular niche?

A strategic approach

In order to get the most out of your networking, it’s vital to do your research and invest time in yourself:

Determine what area you want to work in, defining parameters by sector and location. Dare to dream – what companies would you like to work for or with?

When you've identified your prospects, the next step is to get onto their radar so that they become aware of you and you can begin to establish a relationship with them, particularly, the key decision makers within the organisation.

  • Find out where they network and seek to attend those events.
  • Search your Linked In contacts for people who are connected to the company or individuals in question and ask for an introduction.
  • Follow them on Twitter and when they follow back start a conversation. Some of my most valuable contacts have come via Twitter!
  • Cultivate a strong online presence and make sure you’re visible to potential employers by publishing quality content on a regular basis and being active in relevant online groups.
  • At events where your prospects are present be bold and seek them out. Afterwards, follow up and think about taking the relationship forward.
  • It takes time to build a relationship with a company or individual to the point where they hire or do business with you takes time, on average around 18 months from that first contact.
  • It’s important to build relationships with as many people as possible within your target organisations as possible. You want the power of ‘word of mouth’ working for you.

The power of giving thanks

Never forget the power of a “thank you.” Many people do, so acknowledgement with a simple thanks reinforces your mastery of networking to your new employer or contact.

And, as we all know networking is an important part of any business growth strategy.

Suggested reading:

‘The FT Guide to Business Networking’: Heather Townsend
‘The Likeability Factor’: Tim Sanders
‘Never Eat Alone’: Keith Ferazzi
‘Return on Relationships’: Ted Rubin