Why and How You Should Network (Especially when you’re starting off)
It can be very tempting to ignore the importance of networking, especially if you’re not naturally inclined towards it. You might instead embrace the ‘head down and work hard’ approach: “I just need to go to the interview, get the ‘yes’ and then wow them quietly in the workplace with my hard work and dedication!”
This can certainly feel more genuine when networking has such cynical connotations. The word quickly conjures up images of business cards, pinstripe suits and an exclusive men’s club that women are left peering into.
The reality is that by not networking you may be missing out, not only on opportunities, but on a chance for some fun and to create meaningful relationships!
If you break down what networking means in its truest form, it’s about teamwork.
Networking is about building relationships with people that can be mutually beneficial, whether it’s one quick coffee or a lifelong mentorship. These conversations can be a chance for you both to share information, like opportunities, but also to reflect on your career, get a boost of inspiration and passion, and learn things that may improve your performance.
It doesn’t have to mean joining an Old Boys club - think of it as you starting your own! You get the chance to create a network filled with lots of eclectic individuals and people who might typically be excluded from traditional networking avenues, and you can all benefit from each others’ experiences and insights. This is why you’re never too junior to network: you already have a lot to give, whether it’s asking thoughtful questions, sharing events, introducing people and supporting others.
There are many different ways to network, from traditional networking events run by companies or industry groups, or setting up your own regular google hangout or coffee morning. The approach is up to you - just make sure you do it!
Here are some tips on how to be savvy when you network:
1: Don't just contact the big dogs
There is a tendency for people to reach out to the person with a lot of the sway in the company, especially as they seem to have the hiring ability.
This isn’t a bad approach but it is limiting: junior members or staff can sometimes be an even more helpful resource as you’ll have more in common, and be looking to progress your careers on similar timelines.
Junior colleagues typically have more time and incentive to network, and you might quickly develop a genuine equal relationship.
Your peers or junior colleagues may also have more practical knowledge about starting off in your industry right now, bringing a different perspective to the people who’ve been in it for 20 years, before social media disrupted the job market.
They can even be powerful allies - whether it’s passing on hiring opportunities or putting your CV at the top of the pile. So, when approaching people to go for coffee, think to yourself: who is in the job I would want in 5 years? What about 2 years? Or 1?
2: Follow up with contacts after you meet them
Great, you’ve gone for coffee and they gave some stellar advice! What next?
Try to stay conscious of the relationship moving forward. Don't be embarrassed to be proactive about keeping in touch, even if it might feel like overkill. For instance, you could:
Send them a thank you message
Make some brief notes about what you two talked about to refer back to in the future
Schedule in a time in your own calendar to follow up again, maybe in a few months
Any follow up emails should aim to push the relationship forward, while being respectful of any time they’ve already given. That’s why showing that you’ve already engaged with their advice can be a bonus (like making notes!).
3: Use good news as an excuse to follow up
(because everyone loves good news!)
This is why it’s such a great idea to get in contact once you yourself have news - for instance, if you’ve received an accolade or finished a course. It’s a perfect opportunity to do a variety of things all at once: you can put yourself back on their radar in a positive light, while acknowledging the help they’ve given and thanking them again.
Put yourself in their shoes. Imagine it’s a Friday afternoon, they’re tired, it’s been a long week. They receive an email from you that effectively goes:
“Hi, has your company got a job for me yet?”
That is a hard email to respond to! They don’t necessarily want to let you down and they don’t have any news. Then compare with:
“Hi! Thanks again for talking to me about [BLANK]! I’ve actually since put [BLANK] into action and found it really useful. I’ve been doing [BLANK] and even had my work recognised as [BLANK]. I’m still really interested in working for your company at some point soon; I see your company has recently done [BLANK]!”
What the second message has is a sense of teamwork. You’re sharing how they helped you achieve something, even as you’re asking for a favour. It’s a nice email to receive - and a much easier one to respond to.
4: Get out of your head and go for it!
Most of all, remember, no matter how nervous you feel at an event facing a roomful of people and clutching a warm glass of white wine, you just need to have a connection with one person to have made the evening worthwhile.
Go get ‘em, tiger!