For many people, even the word ‘networking’ conjures up negative thoughts and an image of smarmy, career-climbers swanning around with their canapés whilst making shallow small talk. If this sounds like you, then you are not alone. However, for many people, especially the introverts, the real reason that they detest networking (and claim to be dreadful at it) is because they have been taking the wrong approach all along.
Below are 6 tips to help you see networking in a more positive light:
Quality over quantity
First of all, change your mind set about networking. Networking isn’t about meeting as many people as possible in the shortest period of time. Instead, it is about building meaningful, mutually beneficial relationships and this requires time. When you go to an event, focus on connecting with 1 or 2 kindred spirits rather than setting out to meet everyone in the room. The outcome will be far better if you focus on connecting with even just one person and then take the time to follow up with them after the event. A network takes times to build and the focus should always be on building a mutually beneficial and lasting relationship.
The easiest way to build lasting relationships is to really get to know that person on a deeper level. To do this, the focus should be on asking questions to get to know the person and listening attentively whilst giving that person your full focus. Connecting with someone on a deeper level is much more likely to result in a lasting connection than just some shallow small talk.
Give yourself permission to be yourself
Allow yourself to ‘be yourself’ when attending a networking event. If you are an introvert, then don’t feel pressure to be the loudest or most confident person in the room. Instead, focus on using your strengths which are more likely to be your curiosity, listening skills and your ability to focus. Use these strengths instead of trying to overcome your weaknesses, and don’t try and be someone that you are not.
Leave when you are ‘done’
For most introverts, there comes a time when they are drained of energy after making small talk with a large number of people and even possibly being in a crowded and noisy space. If this is you, then don’t feel as if you have to stay to the end. There is no shame leaving earlier once you feel that you have hit the wall. If it makes you feel better, prepare a reason for leaving prior to the event so that you can gracefully slip out when you need some alone time.
Networking can be a 1 on 1 event
Networking is not just about attending events with a room full of people. We have opportunities to network all the time whether that be on a tram, at the bus stop, at the school gate or at the neighbourhood dog park. Accidental but meaningful one-on-one conversations are still a great form of networking that can help an individual develop their career or expand their business. If one-on-one networking works better for you, then focus on making the most of these opportunities rather than attending large events that make you feel uncomfortable.
Choose the right type of event
If you still want to attend events, then choose the right ones. An event with a speaker and a clearly established theme can be a much better choice than an event with no focus. Undertaking some research on the speaker and the theme in advance will allow you to discuss the main topic with anyone in the room rather than trying to make small talk about the weather or your next holiday. Events that you could consider might include a professional association event, alumni events and Meetups where everyone attending shares a common interest such as coding, design thinking, start-ups or user experience.
Follow up after the event
Networking is not about a one-off meeting but rather about building a long-term relationship that is mutually beneficial. To build a network, it is important to follow-up after the event. LinkedIn provides the perfect opportunity to do so by simply sending a connection request after the event, possibly mentioning an interesting topic of conversation or sharing an article or podcast that may be of interest to the other person.
Networking is a critical skill when it comes to career development and shouldn’t be ignored. It is a key requirement for individuals at all stages of their career and becomes increasingly important to have an established network the more senior you become. It is your network that will get you through when you hit an unexpected career bump such as a redundancy or when your business fails. If networking makes you cringe, instead focus on choosing a method of networking that you feel comfortable with and one that plays to your unique strengths.
Written by CGA Careers Expert – Leah Lambart
Did you check out last month’s career’s article? How to fall back in love with your job?