Networking is perhaps one of the most common pieces of advice given to young professionals looking to grow their career. At the same time, many are not skilled at networking, so fail to reap its benefits in their careers.
Regardless of where you are in your career, make growing your network a priority. These new people might one day become mentors, support systems or conduits to new opportunities.
How much effort do you put into growing your network? As with pursuing any personal goal, growing your network requires intention and focus. For example, if you want to lose 10 pounds, thinking about it won’t be enough; you need to do something.
The first step to growing your network is to be clear on the value and benefits for you and to see how it can have a positive impact on your career.
What stops some of us from growing our network is our routine. We get comfortable in a pattern that’s almost automatic and driven by our unconscious mind. Once we understand the benefits of networking it’s helpful to consider how our routines may be limiting our opportunities. Routines often become ingrained and can limit our options because they’re comfortable.
The concept of networking can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. All networking means is putting yourself in situations where you can meet new people. What some forget is that many are like us; they like to meet new people too.
Expanding your network requires focusing on a few things and taking action.
- Be you — Perhaps one of the most important things when you start to focus on expanding your network is to be congruent. Be honest and humble. You want people to associate with you because of who you are, not who you say you are.
- Check your relationship building skills toolbox — Complete an inventory of your relationship building skills. Keep in mind that networking is about getting exposure to new people and opportunities for building new relationships. Some basic relationship skills are professional etiquette: knowing when to speak and when to listen; conversation skills that allow others to get to know you; and self-confidence and resiliency to understand you may not click with every person you’d like to get to know. Many of these micro skills, like coping skills and resiliency, are trainable and can be improved with practice.
- Be intentional and consistent — Once you feel confident in your skills to connect and want to expand your network, be intentional and consistent. Set realistic expectations. Don’t expect that after two events you will have developed your network substantively. Be focused on meeting one person at a time; be open to help and support them first; and get to know them as people who like working with and supporting people they know and trust.
- Start with familiar and expand out — To grow your network, start with your peers at work. Connect with them and then look for opportunities to meet other people in your organization in different groups. Look for professional organizations you can join; volunteer; take a class; reach out and reconnect to high school and university contacts you’ve lost touch with. The key is to focus on getting to know people with no agenda or expectations. Be interested in getting to know people.
- Follow up — When you meet a new person you’re interested in, follow up and stay in touch by dropping them notes and sharing ideas you have in common. If they respond and reciprocate, you’re then building a foundation for a trusted relationship. As you build more relationships, each can be a pathway to a new person or opportunity. Be patient and focus on getting to know people for who they are first. Avoid pushing your agenda. Wait for the ask or the right time when you know there’s a foundation and you’ve earned the right to ask.
- Be ready for ask — Be ready for speed ball. There may be a time you meet a person in a position of authority and they give you a few minutes. They may be direct and ask a question point-blank, like, “What are your career goals?” Be ready to respond with a pithy, two-sentence response, “Today my career goals are . . . .” These two sentences may result in a few outcomes, from, “That’s interesting” to “You know, I know someone” or “Let’s chat more.”
The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell created the Employee Recommended Workplace Award to honour companies that put the health and total well-being of their employees first. Register for the 2020 Employee Recommended Workplace Award at: employeerecommended.com. This series of articles supports the award.
Bill Howatt is the founder of Howatt HR Consulting and a co-creator of the Employee Recommended Workplace Award.
You can find other stories like these at tgam.ca/workplaceaward.