Written by Adam Richardson (firstname.lastname@example.org), Managing Director and Owner of AR Resourcing. Adam has 19 years’ experience recruiting professional and technical disciplines across the built environment industries.
We are all aware of the importance of networking to a successful career however very few people plan for it. Networking will accelerate your learning, generate career development opportunities, help you identify new business, make it easier to build your team and much more besides. Essentially it is a fundamental skill with two elements – building your network and maintaining it.
THE IMPORTANCE OF NETWORKING
Excellence is hard to achieve in isolation. In any field from sport to business you will find that groups shape and advance one another’s thinking and the better the people you surround yourself with the more and faster you will progress.
The wider and deeper those networks, the better – for example, technical networks help develop your skills and capabilities, supply chain networks enable you to access the best materials at the best price, new business networks help you generate business, industry networks help build your profile within your company or the wider industry. These networks will overlap but it highlights the importance of being strategic in your approach to networking.
NETWORK WITH A PURPOSE
With so many networking opportunities as well as limited time and money it is important to spend ten minutes developing a networking strategy so you focus on the events that will deliver you the best results.
Start by identifying what you are trying to achieve through your networking: building your personal profile, improving technical skills, broadening your network either horizontally (i.e. knowing more people who do jobs like yours) or vertically (i.e. with prospective clients and suppliers) etc. The chances are you will want to do all of these things so you will need to prioritise.
Having focused your energy, you can set yourself quarterly and annual tasks such as attending a certain number of events (choose them with care) or keeping in contact with key people... Set calendar reminders to ensure that you measure against your targets and achieve your networking objectives.
MAINTAINING A NETWORK
Contacts within a network need to be nurtured, otherwise, the relationship will die – an inefficient use of time given it takes more effort to build your network than to maintain it. Every six months categorise the contacts within your network and set actions for each group, for example:
1) very Important - face to face catch up every 6 months;
2) important - phone catch up every 6 months;
3) useful - personal email every 6 months;
4) other - general email or LinkedIn mail every 3-6 months.
Block time out each week in your diary to make this happen. It may seem like a lot of work initially but it the time investment will pay itself back in spades over months and years.
HOW TO FEEL COMFORTABLE BUILDING A NETWORK
Many people feel uncomfortable networking – even those who appear outwardly confident and at ease are using coping mechanisms to fake it. The good news is that those coping mechanisms are so easy to learn and quick to implement that after a while networking becomes second nature.
When I was starting in my career and didn’t feel naturally confident at events, before the event I would:
1. select a couple of stories I thought were interesting in an industry publication and note down a few thoughts on them;
2. select a couple of good stories from the national news and note thoughts on those; and then
3. prepare a few questions related to the industry and national news stories I had chosen as well as a couple of social, open-ended questions e.g. “Are you going away on holiday over Easter?”.
Armed with my nine questions I could go into any event with confidence as I would always have a prompt to keep the conversation moving.
Don’t feel that you need to talk a lot to be interesting. Studies have shown that people find conversations most interesting when they are doing most of the talking. The mantra two ears, one mouth is a good one – i.e. you should be listening more than you talk.