Networking is one of the most powerful and useful acts an individual can undertake to advance their career. Your network can help you build visibility, connect you with influencers, and create new opportunities. However, as professionals who work in technology development and management we often overlook the importance of this attribute. Given that I was born in the 1980’s, I can clearly remember the widespread usage of the internet and some of the basic social functionality that emerged. In the last 5 to 10 years we have been swamped with online portals that offer alternatives to face to face networking such as Linkedin. In today’s article I will dissect networking and why I believe the face to face approach is still the key to success, provide you with six points of advice to hit the ground running and a few useful online sources.
Networking in simple terms is an information exchange between you and another individual with a focus of establishing relationships with people who can help you achieve a particular goal; including advancing your career.
A networking contact could result in one of the following:
- Intimate information on the latest in your field of interest (IEEE technical society is a good example) or information about an organization’s plan to expand operations or release a new product.
- Job search advice specific to your field of interest (where the jobs are typically listed).
- Tips on your job hunting tools (resume, cover letter and /or design portfolio).
- Names of people to contact about possible employment or information.
- Follow-up interview and a possible job offer
Who is in my network?
Developing your network is easy because you know more people than you think you know, and if you don’t then you really should get out there and start meeting people. Networking is the linking together of individuals who, through trust and relationship building, become walking, talking advertisements for one another.
Your family, friends, room mates, partners, university academics and staff, alumni, past and present co-workers, neighbours, club and organization and association members, people at the gym, people at the local cafe and neighbourhood store, and people in your sports club.
These people are all part of your current network, professional and personal. Keep an on-going list of the names and contact information of the people in your network. Ask your contacts to introduce you to their contacts and keep expanding your list. Opportunities to network with people arise at any time and any place. Never underestimate an opportunity to make a connection.
Online vs Offline?
There are a number of social networking sites where you can make great professional contacts, such as LinkedIn and Facebook. You can also use discussion groups such as blogs, newsgroups, and chat rooms to network online. IEEE Collabratec is a fantastic integrated online community where technology professionals can network, collaborate, and create – all in one central hub. This will help you discover the hot issues in your field of interest, post questions, and find out about specific job openings that are not otherwise posted to the general public.
“The digital arena has shown much promise in terms of networking. It is convenient, universally accessible and very quick. The 21st century human is impatient and demands results at the snap of a finger. While online networking is a big part of relationship-building nowadays, it is only one part of relationship/partnership building. Face-to-face interaction still offers a host of real, unique advantages – which you should not brush aside easily. Trust, transparency and momentum behind strong business relationships emerge as a result of sharing a physical presence. Online interaction of whatever format it may be can’t provide this. It can’t simulate the reassuring grip of a confident handshake, or the positive energy of experiences, values, and interests shared face to face. These things can only unfold by interacting in person. Because of that exclusive context, live networking can be a valuable opportunity to help keep you ahead of the game.”
The power of personally connecting and human interaction accelerates relationship building. In 10 minutes I can know more about someone, or they about me, in person than in several months online. However, you must also keep in mind that online and offline complement each other. If I meet you online and strike up an online relationship that has value and interest to me, then taking it offline is going to enhance and progress that relationship. If we meet in person, then staying connected online is going to enhance and progress our relationship until we meet in person again.
Another thing worth noting is that the new generation of young professionals has become heavily online dependent and often lack a strong face to face networking approach. It is easy to sit behind the computer and type questions but one must have the confidence to do the same in real life. By ensuring you have the face to face element covered also means that you are one step ahead of the pack!
Get out there, start a conversation and make it happen!
If you haven’t been out and about enough, make some goals this year to reconnect in person in your community, business world or hobbies. Go where you already have commonality and know people. It’s much easier and faster to get connected, get personal and make some new friends, connections and you just might get that job, interview, or new customer. Once you feel comfortable with your ability to strike up a conversation then you may want to consider meetup.com as a way of growing your network.
Here are some strategic tips on how leverage networking to maximise outcomes:
- Be strategic about your networking – Strategic networking is more than just socializing and swapping business cards, it is about developing relationships to support your career aspirations. It takes focus and intention to build such a network, but it’s invaluable for your professional development. Identify who you know and who you need to know to help you reach your career goal and build a power network to support your advancement.
- The power of diversity – Move out of your comfort zone and identify people who can help your career, not just those people you like and the people who can immediately be of benefit.
- Be proactive – Networking is not something that we do and then sit on the shelf. It must be done proactively. Ask yourself this “If you were to lose your job tomorrow are you confident that your current network would be able to help you bounce back and start lining up interviews for new roles?” If the answer is no then It will most likely take you much longer to find a new position. And how can you get information about a hiring manager or new boss if you don’t have a network of people to provide that information? As fantastic as some of job sites are, remember that you are not the only one online looking at job adverts. A majority of jobs don’t make it to the websites and are filled through a powerful network.
- Follow up – Follow through quickly and efficiently on referrals you are given. When people give you referrals, your actions are a reflection on them. Respect and honour that and your referrals will grow. It’s often said that networking is where the conversation begins, not ends. If you’ve had a great exchange, ask your conversation partner the best way to stay in touch. Some people like email or phone; others prefer online sites such as LinkedIn. Get in touch within 48 hours of the event to show you’re interested and available, and reference something you discussed, so your contact remembers you.
- Volunteer in organizations – A great way to increase your visibility and give back to groups that have helped you. This is one of the first tips that I give to my students and it is often right in front of you.
- Be interested, stay focused – The best way to network is to show interest in what others have to say. People will be more likely to trust you because they’ll know it’s not all about you. In this process you will also uncover new information that can lead to favourable outcomes. You don’t know what you don’t know. So what’s the best way to learn more? Step away from your desk and do something, see something, read something or listen to something/someone that has nothing to do with your work. Do something that has nothing to do with what you know.
You network will quickly become a web of intertwined relationships that can be a very powerful tool in advancing your career. In conclusion, don’t underestimate what networking can do for you. Your network is your net worth.
Some useful networking tools for your career:
- assessment.com/ – An online career assessment that identifies how one best fits in the workplace
- efactor.com/ – An online community and virtual marketplace designed for entrepreneurs, by entrepreneurs.
- networkingforprofessionals.com/ – A business network that combines online business networking and real-life events.
- plaxo.com/ – An enhanced address book tool for networking and staying in contact
- ryze.com/ – A business networking community that allows users to organize themselves by interests, location, and current and past employers.
Article contributed by Dr. Eddie Custovic, Editor-in-Chief, IMPACT by IEEE Young Professionals