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Want to improve your networking skills? Take control of your career

Posted on from The Reluctant Networker

In today’s challenging economic climate, having multiple options for one’s career is becoming essential. How can you change your mindset and develop a networking ‘style’ that works for you in order to help you to take greater control of your career?

Networking to keep afloat

Long gone are the days of a ‘job for life’, with more and more working professionals experiencing the Challenge of (and the opportunity provided by) being made redundant.  With pension provision becoming ever more financially demanding, we are all likely to have to work until we are older; yet few companies have a great track record in hiring new (and even retaining existing) employees in their 50’s and 60’s.

So what can individuals do to ensure that they get considered for all the right roles or to build a new career as a ‘freelance professional’ with multiple sources of income from a varied series of activities? How can people ensure they do the best job they can so that when the next round of ‘efficiencies’ are made, they survive?

How can networking help my career?

Networking can help one’s career in a number of ways:

  • It helps get access to the many jobs that never get advertised or sourced via agencies/headhunters. Figures quoted vary but many experts will say that only 30% of new roles that are filled externally use headhunters or adverts. Networking is a great way to find out about the other 70%.
  • Networking is a great sales tool. If you want to sell professional services (especially if you are a freelancer but also if you work for a big brand), having many, deep relationships based on mutual trust is a great start point. As a freelancer you’ll probably need multiple sources of income...having a broad network will help you identify new leads.
  • Networking helps you make a success of your current role. In today’s rapidly changing and highly-demanding working world it is hard to know all the answers. But with an active network you don’t need to...you just need to know who to call and to have a strong enough relationship to ‘ask a favour’.

So whatever your circumstances (e.g. out of a job and needing a new one, needing to sell your services, or just looking to do your current job well), networking can help you achieve your goals.

Effective networking

"But isn’t networking a rather ‘distasteful’ activity where you ‘use’ people to get what you want?"

This is a common misconception about networking, especially among people who don’t like the thought of doing it. Effective networkers adopt a totally different approach to it. They view networking as a two-way activity, based on long-term relationships built on mutual trust and support. They will spend as much time helping people in their network as they do getting help from their contacts. If you view networking in this light, you are likely to find it a much more enjoyable activity.

How to work on your networking

"OK, but I have been to a few networking events and not really got much out of them."

This is another common misconception about networking i.e. it's all about going to networking events over breakfast, lunch or drinks in the evening. It's true that a lot of networking is done this way, but there are many other ways to network as well.

When I run seminars on networking it is amazing how many people’s view on networking goes something like this:

a) networking is about going to events and working a room full of strangers
b) I don’t enjoy this and am not much good at it
c) therefore I am no good at networking, so networking may be good for others but it is not for me.

These are what I call in my book ‘Reluctant Networkers’. However when I suggest that meeting up with a former colleague who they had not seen for a few years over lunch or a coffee is a different form of networking, I get a response along the lines of ‘oh yes I don’t mind doing that’. The response is similar when I suggest that getting on LinkedIn and reconnecting with former colleagues and classmates is another form of networking. When participants start to think more broadly about how to network they come up with all sorts of different ways to do it, some of which they even enjoy.

Change your mindset

If you do go to a networking event think of it as a means to an end not the end itself.

  • Have you targeted the right event where you are likely to meet the people you would like to connect with? 
  • Have you gone with the right attitude or just ended up talking to only one person (maybe a friend already because it is a face you know, or because you did not know how to end a conversation that has gone on too long)?
  • Have you got a few ‘opening questions’ prepared if you find starting a conversation difficult.
  • Have you taken your business cards? 
  • If you exchange cards do you follow up the next day with a ‘nice to meet you’ email?

So even if you think you are a ‘reluctant’ networker, you can still be a very ‘effective’ one. The key is to think differently about networking: view it as a two-way (i.e. give as well as take), long-term activity that can be achieved in many different ways.

About the book

Neil Munz-Jones is author of The Reluctant Networker (www.reluctantnetworker.com).

Published by HotHive Books, RRP £9.99.

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