Networking is now increasingly regarded as a business and personal social skill. It’s not just social media networking. Face-to-face networking is a key part of the modern careers landscape.
According to online jobs search agency Seek, most job opportunities are never advertised. It’s been estimated that more than half of positions vacant in Australia are filled through informal networks rather than formally advertised. Many call this the “hidden job market”. People get these jobs through their networks. Seek job search specialists say these techniques are among the most powerful and effective way of finding a job. Confidence comes from planning and practice.
Networking is not about business cards, it’s not about cold calling strangers and making presentations. Networking is about building connections and contacts. The problem is it doesn’t come easily to everyone. If you’re introverted, and not particularly good at small talk and chit-chat, then networking is hard work. But it’s important for careers.
So how do we do it? Dr Ivan Misner, founder of BNI, the world’s biggest networking organisation, has a number of recommendations. “Networking is more than shaking hands and passing around business cards,’’ Misner says. “Based on a survey I conducted of more than 2,000 people throughout the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia, it’s about building your “social capital”.” The highest-rated traits in the survey are the ones related to developing and maintaining good relationships.” He says real networking means following up on referrals, always being enthusiastic and motivated, being helpful, listening and probably most importantly, never being off duty.
The Washington Post has a blog entry from business coach Vinay Kumar with good ideas to help introverts network. The trick, he says, is to introduce yourself to people, listen to them and get into a conversation and then start introducing them to others. A network will grow. After all, people love to talk about themselves. All you do is listen and absorb, playing to your strengths as an introvert.
Tips here include keeping a database of everyone you meet from as early in your career as you can, going to events that interest you, hearing speakers you like and taking in topics that you learn from. Another way is to join alumni groups, or keep tabs on people you already know through work or study, building deeper connections with people you already know. Then, you can always ask someone to mentor you (and join their circle). Alternatively, mentor someone junior to you. It’s all part of the same mix. You can always get in touch with successful people and ask for 45 minutes of their time to talk about their success in your industry. That’s no big sacrifice on their part. Successful people like to share their knowledge. The important thing here is that it’s not about turning up to places to “meet people” and exchange business cards. It’s too forced and won’t work, it has to be meaningful.
Do you network? What advice would you give?