Do You Want to Grow Professionally? Start Networking!
As Nadine already touched upon in our recent "Goal Setting Toolkit for 2021", the start of a fresh calendar gives us a feeling of a clean slate, a sense of a new beginning that we can use to fuel our preparedness and motivation to achieve our goals.
Everyone has different goals in life and they're all equally valuable. Some people are looking into deepening their personal relationships this year. Others would like to find growth in learning new skills, a new language, or how to play an instrument. Some might like to become more sustainable and reduce their carbon footprint. And there are definitely loads of people looking into growing professionally, whether this takes place in their current company, a new one, or in the form of an independent venture.
When thinking about career development one might instantly start considering LinkedIn Learning courses, getting a career coach or a mentor, conducting a short-term assignment, or even enrolling into an executive program or other forms of higher education to complete your CV. Often overlooked, networking is as good an opportunity as any other to achieve growth within a corporate environment.
Why so? If done correctly, networking allows you to:
Learn from industry-best and develop your expertise and soft skills
Improve your working relationships and set you on the right path for enhanced collaborations
Increase visibility within an area that's key for your career development and among key stakeholders or decision-makers
Tap into additional feedback opportunities
Even though you might have realized by now that it's really important to network, it can still be perceived as time-consuming, difficult, or just awkward. This is why I've broken it down into 6 easy steps.
Step 1: Start networking before you actually need it
I can't emphasize enough how important this step is. Starting to work on your network only when you need it can make the interaction feel forced, or fake and you might come across as inconsiderate or selfish.
It's essential that you start working on your interpersonal connections before there's an actual need to reach out. This will make your interactions more genuine and effortless.
Step 2: Research and identify key people
Start by identifying key stakeholders you would like to connect with. Think about people with profiles or skills you admire and would like to learn from.
Don't limit your search to merely people in higher ranks within your organization, your industry, or related fields. Keep in mind there's a lot to learn in life and business. Professionals from outside your function or industry might not grant you immediate visibility for a promotion, but they can guide you and help you improve your leadership skills, your learning methodology, the way you approach feedback, how to build resilience, and many more things.
Step 3: Don't be afraid to reach out!
Sometimes it might feel weird to just message or approach a person you don't know, but honestly, what's the worst thing that can happen? If you're respectful, natural, and genuine, the absolute worst thing that can happen is not getting an answer. I assure you, you can survive it.
Don't get discouraged by negative answers (or no answers at all). People are often busy or simply have different priorities than helping out someone they don't know (and that's completely ok!). The key to success is not giving up, to continue identifying key people and of course, reaching out.
Step 4: Develop a genuine connection
The moment of truth! This step also represents a major milestone in the networking process as it's absolutely key to do it properly in order to succeed.
The objective is to get to know the other person properly and with honesty. While it's important to maintain a respectful and professional conversation, it's equally important to ensure it doesn't feel too transactional or self-interested.
Show polite interest in the other party: ask about their motivations and priorities, what they consider a good piece of advice as a professional, what they care about, their highs and lows in the workplace, or what they find valuable. Try to find common interests and don't forget that you might have something to offer in return.
Step 5: Build on this relationship keeping in mind that authenticity is your greatest ally
Continue building up on your shared interests to grow this relationship and make it more authentic. Share interesting articles, ask for advice, propose a coffee meet-up, extend the topics of conversation, or perhaps arrange a sport session together (if COVID restrictions allow). Do whatever feels natural to you and the relationship and make sure you don't go overboard. The purpose is to develop a natural connection.
People hate feeling used or interacting with fake, dishonest people. It's key that throughout all your interactions (online and offline), you act natural and true to yourself and your values.
Even if you're nervous, make sure your body language is natural, don't write anything on paper (you're not attending a lecture), don't force smiles or nod too often and please, don't lie about your interests. Networking is a long-term investment, so you need to ensure your connections are sustainable in time. This might seem obvious but it's easy to get caught in such behaviours when in real need of building a connection.
Step 6: Leverage your connections
This should be the easiest step of them all. You have already developed a few genuine relationships so when in need, don't hesitate to reach out for feedback, advice, or a recommendation. Don't be afraid or too proud - you're part of a community and a society where you can get way further by collaborating and working together.
Have you ever considered actively networking? What ways of networking feel most natural to you? Would you consider any additional steps to succeed in building a network?
I am not an expert, I just researched this topic from a place of personal interest. If I used incorrect terminology or expressed something incorrectly, please feel free to let me know.