Networking skills are extremely important if you are planning to be in it for the long haul. Knowing the right people in the right places may just land you a dream job, a coveted client or a crucial bit of information which your competitor would give his right arm for. Intelligent networking gives you an unfair advantage, and may prove to be a game-changer when the chips are down for you.
Networking is a desirable skill and everyone from the CEO to the junior intern is very well aware of that. The harder you try to master it, the more difficult and painful it becomes. So what does one do to master the one skill that is so very critical in pushing you up the career ladder?
For starters, forget the urgent need to be a good networker and focus on building some basic people skills.
Learn New Social Skills
If you are fresh out of college and have a very active social life, this may appear too silly. You are social-media savvy, a born ‘friends’ and ‘followers’ acquirer, and probably enjoy living a very visible and public online life. But land your first job and you realize that people are not the same anymore.
What may have been hilarious and funny when in college is looked down upon and met with frowns. Finding friends or building relationships is not easy when you live a 9-5 job with back-breaking deadlines and stiff competition. So how do you cope?
You will have to appear focused on your work, deliver results and meet deadlines. Once you have proved you are up to the demanding professional work environment, you can take baby steps toward establishing a solid and bankable professional network.
This is easier said than done, and will require conscious effort on your part.
Relate to the person you are having a conversation with. Don’t judge and weigh the benefits that his business card and contact number will bring you, since this will make it difficult for you to be involved in the interaction.
Men are generally expected to be more outgoing and proactive in reaching out to new people and thereby reap better results out of their networking skills. But surprisingly this is not the case.
Women connect to people on a more emotional and personal level, and are less bothered about deriving business gains out of budding professional relationships. But they report to having higher career or business-related gains from their professional network, as compared to men.
You need to be more relational and less transactional. You need to focus on the person sitting before you and have less calculations running in your mind.
Be Involved in Office Activities
While building your professional network, it is better you start at the basics. Make friends in your workplace. Most office friendships grow organically, but you can make an effort to work things out for you. And once you set the ball rolling in your own workplace it will not be very difficult to grow and expand your network beyond your cubicle and organization.
Participate in after-work events. Most of us hate the crappy company picnics and weekend get-togethers, but they will help you learn the ropes as far as business networking goes.
Try to participate in team lunches and do join in for coffee breaks when invited. However tempting it may be, don’t hide behind your keyboard. Once you get the hang of it, socializing with your colleagues will not be a pain. What’s more, in due course of time it may prove to be enjoyable and easy as well.
Your job may be temporary but the friendships you build will last long, so work on them.
Your professional network is made up of the friends you have made in your workplace or industry. And what are friends for if you don’t help each other grow?
You need not do anything out of the way or bend over backwards to please someone, but you can do a world of good if you introduce a friend or a former colleague to someone you know who is looking out for a new hire.
Job opportunities need to be shared among your circle of friends so that someone benefits. This will make your group or network active, rewarding and engaging.
Also, people tend to remember someone who tried to help them in a time of need. Your genuine concern will certainly be appreciated and the goodwill you gather will last far longer than you can possibly imagine now.
Work on Your Network and Be Intentional
As you grow older in your career, you will begin to notice the multiple benefits and possibilities a full-fledged and thriving professional network offers.
You know the right man to get a difficult job done, you have the insider giving you piping hot gossip from the inner circles of power in your industry, you have a trusted man to give you best advice when you are down, you have a partner (not your spouse) to share your dreams and woes with, and you have a best friend to enjoy a chilled beer with after work on Friday.
So if you want to age gracefully in your job build your network carefully and tenaciously.
Make sure you have a mentor in your network, who is someone you can look up to and feel inspired by. When you see him surmounting challenges and obstacles to achieve success, you will feel brave enough to strive for the same.
Try to build contacts in the right places in your industry. Once you identify the people you would like to network with, try to get more information about them. Scout on LinkedIn for shared connections and get a friend to introduce you to the person. Request for an opportunity to chat up with the person, offer lunch or coffee and be earnest in your attempts to solicit a meeting.
Join Professional Organizations
Don’t attempt to be a member of as many professional or trade organizations as possible. Join a few and participate actively in all functions and activities. Attend conferences, meetings, events and classes aimed at professionals in your industry. This will help you get introduced to influential people and build contacts.
Professional networking is no different from other relationships. They take time to run deep, grow roots and flower.
You need to remain in touch with your friends and not just fall off the communication radar after some time or with a job change.
Do not be the person who calls only when they need something. You can always sense when someone is chatting you up with an aim of getting something out of you. Do not be that annoyance to someone else.
LinkedIn and other social networks let you know when someone has just switched his job, earned a degree or moved to a new city. Make sure you send a congratulatory message and renew your friendship.
The secret to developing a successful professional network is realizing, accepting and dealing with the ‘human’ face of your network. Your professional networking is not something you need to tick off on the monthly to-do list. The more genuine, warm and involved you are with your work friends, the better networker you become.
Author Bio: Laura Moses is the founder of JD Main, an accounting firm outside Chicago which offers accounting, bookkeeping, and part time controller services. Prior to this, Laura was a Corporate Controller for several privately held companies thereby gaining supervisory and controller level experience in all facets of accounting.