Networking is one of the most valuable skills you can have in your career, yet being a good networker does not come naturally to everyone. For many it can invoke as much fear as public speaking, causing over analysis and leaving individuals feeling exposed amongst colleagues and industry peers. Like most things in business, being a good networker takes practice and not even those ardent professionals you have watched from the corner of the room at the last event you attended were born great networkers. To get ahead in your career networking is a skill you need to master and it is one of the top recommendations we give to all the university students and graduates we work with.
So where do you start?
As a recent graduate you already have a network – your alumni. Your university colleagues, including the teaching staff, can prove to be some of the best contact you will have during your career. Stay in touch with those that impressed you and identify those that may share the same career aspirations as you. Most universities communicate with alumni once they graduate, get onto the mailing lists and attend faculty functions.
Once you enter the workforce, keep an eye out for industry events or opportunities to socialise within the business, at this early stage in your career, use any chance you can get to practice your interpersonal skills and build your professional confidence. Take these opportunities to interact with industry peers and senior colleagues, ask questions or just watch them in practice. You can also use the time to hone your own “elevator pitch” or listen to how others sell themselves. These are the best take outs you can get from networking opportunities.
Furthermore networking is all about relationship building, and people prefer to do business with or help people they know, so it makes sense to identify, connect with and foster these relationships.
How to know if you’re doing it right?
Networking can be approached from two angles – personally and professionally. In both instances, the best way to work out if you’re on the right track is to identify how networking fits into your company and career strategy. Professionally, networking is often an integral part of a “to market” strategy, so asking for clarity on the company’s strategy will help you identify what kind of networking is appropriate for you to do on behalf of your organisation. If you are continually asked to represent the company at industry or company events then you must be doing something right.
Personally, you may wish to engage in networking to get yourself known within your chosen industry and to establish your reputation. It’s a great opportunity to build contacts that may help either your career progression, become a mentor to you or become an important industry ally. LinkedIn is a perfect platform for building your personal brand, but be mindful of your personal networking opportunities encroaching on your company’s time, particularly if you are doing it to change roles.