networking your way to success

Uncomfortable at the thought of asking someone you barely know to introduce you to someone you don’t know at all? Don't worry, you’re far from the only one! Networking is hard, even for those people who make it look easy. And surprisingly, it seems that women have a harder time at it than their male counterparts, even though women are generally better communicators and collaborators. You’d think it would come naturally.

Networking is relationship building. It’s pretty difficult to ask for something from a stranger, but infinitely easier to ask something from a friend. Not that all the members of your network are or will become your friends. You’ll keep a respectful distance from many of them, a few will be invaluable mentors, yet others will help you make useful connections, and everyone will benefit in some way from the common denominator – you – and what you bring to the table. It’s a symbiotic relationship at its best.

The same adjustments in attitude and outlook that really dictate the success or failure of a job search are true for networking. Here’s what we mean:

networking tips for success

practice makes perfect

Successful networking, like playing the piano, is a skill you can acquire through hard work and practice. You may never become a virtuoso, but you’ll certainly develop competencies that will help you succeed and, more importantly, you’ll find your comfort level within a group of like-minded people who you can reach out to and who can reach out to you.

brainstorm

Think about all the people you already know. Don’t judge or censor, just let it flow: family, your social network, gym buddies, friends from school, classes or courses you’re taking, colleagues, people you deal with in life. Everyone knows someone – it’s those someones you want an introduction to. And you’ll build courage by reaching out to people you already have some kind of relationship with.

explain you’re job searching

Who would you reach out to if you were looking for work? Ask those people if they would refer you to their colleagues. Who have you met with lately? Further back? Reach out. Don’t wait until you’re actually looking for work to start building a network. Like a savings account, creating and nurturing a network is a long-term investment strategy where interest compounds. Not something you can do on the fly.

you’re always networking

That’s not as icky as it sounds. Every time you go out with your friends, join a club or attend a social event, you have an opportunity to meet new people (who know new people). We’re not suggesting you conduct a flash interview. We’re saying you have a chance to ask questions about them (think dating) with authentic interest and create the foundation for a future relationship. From the seeds of that relationship, a healthy network will grow.

keep your skills up to date

Attend seminars, take advantage of training opportunities, read, join associations relevant to your field. Not only will you be incredibly marketable, but you’ll also have a stable of contacts, people with interests similar to yours, who you can network with. These are the people you can go to for advice, to find out who’s approachable, what they’re looking for – you’re keeping a finger on the pulse of your industry. It makes you someone people want to see, help and connect with their own contacts.

prepare

Figure out who you are and what you’re looking to gain through this contact. Be really clear about it – it’s not your contact’s responsibility to figure out how they can help you. Be straightforward, concise and especially brief. Time is valuable and non-renewable. Learn what you can about your contact and the person they’re putting you in touch with. LinkedIn is an invaluable source of this kind of information. It also shows you who your contact is connected to. Find out what you can about their business, their role in the company, what media attention, if any, they’ve received. You’re building an arsenal of courage through information. The more, the better.

raise your profile

Start writing. We’re not talking about a novel. If you text, twitter or send emails, you can write. If you’re really unsure of your writing skills, ask a friend to edit or review your work. Write a blog and include links others in your network might find interesting. Create an online article on a subject relevant to your industry. Offer to speak at seminars or conferences. Better still, create events that bring your network together. That makes you the epicentre of your network and the person people want to introduce to their contacts. Keep in touch with your network regularly. It’s hard work to create a network but even more effort to nurture and maintain it. Networks disappear through neglect.

it’s quality, not quantity

Don’t worry if your workmate’s network is bigger than yours. Successful networking, like successful relationships, is about the quality of the relationship. It’s better to have a few great friends than a room full of people with whom you only share a passing acquaintance. You want people in your network with whom you can be yourself, people you can turn to when you need them, who’ll be there for you and who you can be there for in return. That said, don’t dismiss those passing acquaintances – you never know who they might know and would be willing to introduce you to until you ask. So ask.

Most of the time, people want to help. They like being the matchmaker, the person who puts people in touch with each other and creates successful relationships. As difficult as it may be for you to reach out to a networking prospect, being that person who takes your call is not without risks. What if they introduce you to one of their valuable contacts and you turn out to be a dud? What if you’re rude or you don’t follow up with the contact? What if you’re unprepared for the meeting and have no idea what the contact’s business is or even what, exactly, you’re looking to get out of the meeting? You’re not only representing yourself, you’re also putting the reputation of your contact on the line and jeopardizing their relationships.

You have a responsibility to be who you say you are, to prepare, to remember your manners and be respectful of people’s time and position. Successful networking doesn’t flow one way. At its best, it’s mutually beneficial. Like a good relationship. So get out there and ask!

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