"Networking and how to do it... If only I knew that now! And if only someone had taught me how to do it back when I was just starting out in my career. In my experience, networking is one of the hardest soft skills to master. How to work a room. How to work LinkedIn. And how to make connections work for you. All of these skills are needed now more than ever, in a world of portfolio careers in a gig-economy. I would strongly recommend anybody just starting out, or indeed anyone bluffing their way through life as we all are in some way or another, to get to grips with these skills. Like pretty much everything else, they can either be learned the hard way or taught by experienced coaches and professionals. Looking back, I know which I would have opted for had the choice been available in those days!" - Ben Hughes, VP (Industry Engagement), Pearson College London
What is networking?
In business terms, networking refers to the development of professional relationships through the sharing of information. It is an essential part of modern business and can take different forms (could be anything from exchanging a business card to having an hour-long conversation), can be formal or informal and can be with anyone and everyone, whether they are in your industry or not.
Photo by Marvin Meyer / Unsplash
Why is networking important?
Networking is the key factor for progression in any industry and can lead to:
- more opportunities to climb the career ladder
- more skilled associates to help with projects
- more contacts in the case of a business problem
- more clients
- more exposure to other businesses, clientele and consumers.
Nowadays, we never know if our job, house or family circumstances are secure, so it is important to have a good business network in order to prepare for any unexpected position changes.
10 Essentials of Networking Events
- Be prepared - it is imperative that you recognise your aims and objectives for the networking event and stick to them, establishing a specific personal target to accomplish at the event. For example, this could be: ‘to meet a the CEO of a specific company’, ‘to meet 3 new people’ or ‘to find out about an organisation’. Have this in mind before you attend the event, and complete these goals.
- Be yourself - this event is the initiation for building professional relationships. If you fail to be true to yourself, you’ll end up commencing a relationship on a lie. Being genuine is vital and has much more value than attempting to be someone you believe others are looking for - you’ll get caught out!
- Quality NOT quantity - avoid the thought that you have to connect with every person in the room; this will result in multiple introductory conversations that have no potential for memorability. Focus on quality: establishing fewer solid connections is better than having countless meaningless ones.
- Display your passion - showcase your enthusiasm and devotion for your product or service, aiming to leave a lasting impression by communicating your inspiration and even include previous successes and pride. Don’t forget to ask them about their passion too - people enjoy talking about themselves so shared positivity is a huge part of building the foundations for a strong network.
- Be specific - ensure you are clear about what you do, find out exactly what they do, and work out how you can help them and they can help you. Then, make suggestions about specific aspects of business that could crossover or ways you can help one another.
- Be engaged - the construction of rapport between two people is the key to producing a connection to add to your network. And how is this done? In simple terms, act interested. Use eye contact to prove engagement, listen to what they say and ask relevant questions to find out more, nod your head and make gestures to prove you’re listening and finally lean forward to display interest (body language is better than words.)
- Craft your conversations - it is crucial to shape your conversations to suit the individual you are networking with. This means ensuring that the content of your dialogue must be of interest to them, and the conversation needs to be crafted in this way. This will ensure their engagement to what you’re saying, and a mutual conversation can form.
- Join in - if you see two people talking that you know you want to converse with and might want to converse with you, there’s no harm in waiting for a natural break in conversation to introduce yourself. Just be careful not to interrupt, because coming across as disrespectful or rude is not something that will do you any favours. This is where you have to sense the atmosphere: if the conversation seems serious, excuse yourself; but, if the potential connections are inviting and interested to hear about you, then pitch pitch pitch!
- Smile - smiling is something that is underestimated and overlooked in all aspects of life, not just in networking situations. Approachability and warmness are two key things that you need to portray, and smiling allows you to do this. Smiling also conveys a positive attitude, and people will believe that you want to be there, making them more inclined to approach you.
- Follow up - networking commences the connections which have the potential to achieve future success, so maintaining contact with these connections is essential. This might be email, telephone or social media. Make sure you get in touch within 48 hours of the initial meeting: this proves interest and availability.
Photo by rawpixel / Unsplash
Following these ten steps will ensure you become the best networker you can be. So prepare, stay true to yourself, engage, be specific, be passionate, smile and make sure you follow up.
For more blogs and recent news visit the Pearson College London website.