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Proactive Networking For Career Success


I wonder how many readers didn't click on this email because of the word "networking" in the subject header!!  What is it about the word "networking" that brings us out in a cold sweat?  I've been talking to my Make it Happen career move coaching group this week about how to tap into their networks in a way that doesn't feel awkward and it occurred to me that keeping our networks alive is a necessity for all aspects of career development.

If you haven't started yet, don't let that be an excuse.  It's not too late! "The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now."  I'm going to show you why it's important to nurture your network and some very simple and non-fear-inducing ways to do so.

What is networking?
I think the reason that most of us feel negative emotions about networking is because it conjures up images of a room densely packed with strangers making small talk over some warm white wine and limp canapés.  In reality, this represents a small proportion of the ways in which you can build your network and, for many people, is not necessary or relevant.

At its essence, networking is just people helping other people.  Keith Ferrazzi puts it well: "The currency of real networking is not greed but generosity."  It's an exchange, a give and take.  It you start with the intention of what you can offer other people, it's often a lot easier to start building your network.

Another misconception is that extroverts should be great at building a network and introverts will find it harder.  This is not true.  They will just build their networks in different ways.  Introverts may build fewer, deeper, and longer-term relationships whereas extroverts may enjoy "working the room" at events.

The benefits of a network
I was an early adopter of building my network at work.  Without really understanding what I was doing, I always made an effort to keep in touch with people.  There was nothing strategic in my approach.  I kept in touch with people that I liked!  This has helped me in my career and in my business.

I tell my clients that 80% of roles are not advertised.  In my corporate career, I had 6 roles.  My first role came through a recruiter and my second role I was headhunted for.  Each of the others came through my network.  One was a head-hunter I'd kept in touch with, next was going back to a previous firm I'd kept in touch with, next was approaching someone directly at an industry dinner (I'd had a couple of wines!) and the final one was a connection through a family member.

Now I have my own business, a large majority of my work comes through referrals from contacts I have known, liked, and kept in touch with for years.

As well as being a good source for finding a new role, your career network has multiple other benefits:
•            You experience rewarding and meaningful relationships
•            You learn from diverse perspectives
•            You enhance your personal brand and visibility
•            You develop your career the way you want to

Building your network
First of all, be intentional about building your network.  You can start by assessing who is in your network today and where the gaps are.  It is useful to break this down into three key areas:
•            Current role network - who can help you be successful right now
•            Future role network - who can help you explore career options
•            Personal development network - who can help you grow and develop

Which of these three areas could do with a bit more work?
If it's current role network, have a think about what internal relationships you need to build to help you do your job more effectively.  Also, what external relationships could you develop with industry experts, professional bodies, even competitors?

If it's future role network, start to get yourself known outside your current role network.  What are your work interests that could spark conversation with others (e.g. leadership, inclusion, mental health, AI, future of work, etc).  If you have a specific future role in mind, join existing networks around that subject area and start hanging out there.

If it's personal development network, perhaps you'd like to find a mentor or sponsor.  Also, you could seek out people who want to learn the same things as you and buddy up or join their groups.

Remember this is about giving and receiving so it's useful to work out what you can "give" to others before you start networking in earnest.  Make a list and keep adding to it.

Now it's time to get out there! 
There are three main things you can do and here are a few tips for each one.

Attend events - To make this less daunting you can:
•            Seek out someone that's on their own and go talk to them;
•            Take a friend who will also find the event interesting / valuable;
•            Get hold of the attendee list beforehand and ask the host to introduce you to a pre-identified person of interest.

1-2-1 relationships:
•            Find books / articles that person might find interesting and send them snippets or links;
•            Think about a problem that person is trying to solve and find a way to help;
•            Ask if you can pick their brains as an industry expert - flattery goes a long way.

Online social networks:
•            Start commenting on, tagging, and sharing content from a target list of contacts;
•            When you post or share, ask for people's opinions to generate a conversation;
•            Use photos and videos so that people can make a personal connection with you across the virtual interaction.

I hope that's given you a few do-able actions that you can use to nurture your network.  Good luck and please let me know how you get on!

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