Sonia Hendy-IsaacBy Sonia Hendy-Isaac – Senior Lecturer, Curriculum Design for Employer Engagement

This may seem a little harsh, but ‘beyond the oblivious’ is probably a fairer title; we spend far too much time treading the familiar paths of ‘networking’ that more often than not we’re oblivious to the subtleties of the actual definition. When you pull networking back to the basic noun level, it’s a group or system that is interconnected – what we get hung up on is the verb ‘networking’ and its context; it must be professional and it must be an exchange.

Let’s ignore the bundle of business cards tucked in the corner of a drawer for a minute and ask a simpler question – what do you want to achieve through networking – kudos, new opportunities, a job or placement, more industry knowledge, or something else entirely? The motivation to network is more essential than you’d think; without understanding your primary intended outcome, you’ll end up at events, business breakfasts and conferences that serve little or no purpose, and although there may be secondary or unintended outcomes, that’s more often luck than judgement.

So, first things first – know why you’re networking and what your output from the activity should look like – and whilst setting a target for the number of cards you collect might offer you the opportunity to leave an event in a timely fashion, it doesn’t encourage focused activity to deliver your outcome. Once you understand your ‘why’, you can be selective about the events you attend; for example, if your aim is to find a new job or career opportunity, a business breakfast whose attendees are at the same level as you, might open the door to a new company contact, but may require referral to a more senior colleague for recruitment. Although this sounds like a 2-for-1 offer in terms of boosting the number of people in your network, it requires more time and relies on the goodwill of your new contact to get to a decision-maker; in contrast, if you attend a similar event aimed at middle management or even one that intends to discuss the challenges of recruitment, you suddenly find yourself in a room full of people who have the potential to facilitate your intended outcome and if you gear your discussions around your desire to understand the recruitment process to improve your own effectiveness within the job market… Well, it doesn’t take a genius to join up that thought process.

With your ‘why and output(s)’ clear, reconsider what you think of as networking; having your pitch at the ready as you navigate a room full of professionals with a handful of business cards is all very well and good, but have you considered the network a little closer to home? The bundle of cards in the desk drawer mentioned earlier, University Alumni, friends and family, colleagues, ex-colleagues and the like are a group that are interconnected with you – use them! How many times have you heard someone groan, ‘Oh, if only you’d told me you were looking for a new job/supplier/marketing consultant – I had something/one that would have been perfect!’; these are the moments when your reconsideration of ‘network’ kicks you in the teeth! It’s not always about presenting well, front and centre, making eye contact, being affable at a conference supper – sometimes it’s as simple as using the connections you already have. To this end, organise your contacts into sections and send out the odd email update; target it based on your intended outcome – there’s little point having a network if you don’t actually exploit it.

And when thinking of ‘staying in contact’, think Social Networking – the clue is in the title – don’t be afraid to exploit the Twittersphere, Facebook, LinkedIn or even Pinterest in a professional context, especially if your aim is simply to raise your own profile. Whilst shameless self-promotion can be considered bad form – subtle but consistent interactions with the experts or leaders in your field is worth its weight in gold, especially when you’re seeking new opportunities – the current practice of recruitment via Google can be used to your advantage in this way – finding your conversations with industry specialists or thought leaders through a Twitter link can only be a good thing. This method is especially great for introverts; however, do be wary of the time implications – take some tips on how to maximise these tools without losing your way in the haze. And remember – keep your online presence professional!

Keep your presence professional but make everything else personal! Your contacts list should include up-to-date contact details – but it’s just as important to hold the details of the contact you actually had; this ought to include where, when and how you met, and at least one personal detail – a holiday destination, their daughter’s name, the project they were working on – whatever it is, put it in your phone, on the back of the business card, or in your email directory and cite it in your next conversation. Remember, everyone likes to be heard – show you were listening.

Finally, networking is not about quantity, it’s about quality – the best networkers are friendly, approachable, and can carry a two-way conversation (even in a virtual space) but more than that, they find their opportunities by design, and not by accident. This is simply because they know their why and intended outcome(s), they target the events they attend, and the conversations they have, they recall the details and maintain the contact through strong organisation. Remember the definitions – the interconnector is you.

The following two tabs change content below.
Sonia Hendy-Isaac

Sonia Hendy-Isaac

Senior Lecturer, Curriculum Design for Employer Engagement