Over the last decade, networking has turned into one of the most powerful ways to develop a career successfully. Many people dread it, for others it is second nature. The first group sees it has a ‘must do’ task and would rather avoid it, the second uses it as an opportunity to connect with the professionals they would like to do business with, learn from or be inspired by. Some people argue that they are not comfortable with the idea of making a hard sell of their skills, almost feeling like they are not genuine and true to their themselves when they have to do it.
In reality, networking does not need to be a sales exercise and even those who consider themselves hopeless at it can learn how to network successfully. The opportunities – both off and online - have increased exponentially over the last few years. The traditional face-to-face events remain the best way to get to know people and to forge long-term professional relationships. But they can also be the most challenging ones; at times, it can be difficult to attract somebody’s attention and introduce oneself in a social context with only a short amount of time available and a lot of other people waiting to be introduced. When it comes to online networking, social media like LinkedIn or Twitter are playing an increasingly important role; even though this might seem a less intimidating way to connect with new people, it still requires the same effort and time needed for face-to-face introductions. In both cases, there are a few best practices that can make networking more effective.
1. Describe what you do confidently and clearly
Be ready to explain your role and your organisation’s work in a simple yet detailed way so that the people you meet are clear about what you do and how you can potentially help them or one of their connections. It’s probably best to prepare an elevator speech; in this way, you will have a brief but effective description of your role always ready to go.
2. Do your homework
Whenever possible - both when attending an event or approaching potential contacts online - make sure that you are familiar with what they and their organisation do. This has the multiple purposes of showing that you made an effort to know more about them as well as being a good conversation starter and a useful source of information to find any points in common you might have with them.
3. Remember that it’s about reciprocal benefits
Once connecting with somebody, you need to make sure that they understand not only why you would be interested in building a relationship with them but also how they can benefit from it. People are extremely busy and they are introduced to potential connections all the time, so you need to stand out from the crowd and show them why you are worth their time and interest.
4. Keep engaging with your contacts
Creating a powerful network cannot be done overnight. Getting introduced or connecting with someone is only the starting point. Thanks to social media, it is easy to keep in touch with your connections regularly by sharing content, commenting on their blogs/profiles or simply dropping them a line to see how they are. The key rule is that you should avoid being in touch with them only when you need something.
5. It’s about quality not quantity
And finally, remember that networking is not about how many people you know, but about knowing the right people that might help you develop your professional profile or find your next job. In the long term, any of your connections might be instrumental in your career development but this does not mean that you should connect with somebody only for the sake of it.
The 2015 Women in Project Management National Conference will take place on Thursday 24th September.