How To Network When You Haven't Got A Clue
The Debrief: Read this so we can all retire at 40
Networking conjures images of stuffy men, in stuffy suits, in stuffy rooms. It’s the kind of thing you expect someone with the title of Recruitment Senior Management Account Executive to do. But networking isn’t just reserved for those people; it's actually something we should all be taking advantage of so we can make it big by the time we're 35 and retire by 40 (The Dream).
Phanella Mayall Fine, career coach and co-founder of Step Up Club (their book STEP UP: Your Perfect Career In 10 Minutes A Day is out in September) talked us through how to actually network when you've got no clue.
Remember that it’s just about having conversations
‘Networking is really tricky because the word conjures up a picture of some really cringey event where you don’t know anyone and you’ve got to go out firing your business card around and it feels really daunting.
‘Actually if you think about what it really is it’s just about having conversations with people, but you have a purpose. If you can think about it in those terms, then that feels a lot less scary. You’re just talking to people and naturally things will happen.’
Start with the people you already know
‘Think of a network as a web of contacts, so you can start with people you already know. If you think about plotting them out – people you went to college with, friends of parents, friends of friends, people you’ve met through work – you’ve actually already got a big network even if you didn’t think you did and it actually doesn’t feel that scary.
‘You could start off by getting back in touch with people from college who you haven’t spoken to in a while and who are in a similar industry or maybe people you worked with or did an internship with. Open yourself up to new opportunities and gradually you’ll find that you’re starting to go to completely new things where you’re meeting people you never thought you would have.’
If you’re shy, start small
‘If you’re naturally introverted obviously the idea of being in a roomful of people, even if they’re your friends, is less attractive to you. And if your confidence is low, obviously that’s double. If you’re shy, start in your comfort zone and gradually build up your tolerance.’
‘Don’t start by going to an industry event where you’re not going to know anybody because even I find that frightening. Start off with small events like drinks with friends of friends or going to the office drinks on a Friday night which you wouldn’t normally go to. Actually you only need to make one or two really good connections for them to flow in and for your web to start to massively grow.
‘I think the other thing for shy people to remember is that we think everyone is staring at us and worrying about what we’re doing but of course, actually people are very concerned about themselves. If you can remember that many people will feel the same way that you do, that’s quite empowering.’
Remember that people love to talk about themselves
‘If you feel like you don’t have anything to say or have anything to offer, in some ways this will make you a better networker because you will be really open to asking questions. If you ask a few questions, people will respond to that in a really positive. What you will find is that you will go away from a conversation and they’ll think you’re fantastic because they’ve been able to speak about themselves.’
Men and women do network differently
‘There are two areas where women and men really differ in terms of networking and there are areas we can take a little bit from the way that they network. The first is that we know that women prefer to make really strong, deep connections with a smaller number of people more similar to themselves.
‘Men are more comfortable making more surface level connections with bigger numbers of people and those people will often be quite different to themselves. If you think about work networks, then the male network is actually more useful than the female network because if you are a 25 year old girl connecting with lots of other 25 year old girls that you get on really well with, it’s less useful than connecting with a lot of different people who are all really diverse. If you’re connecting with people who are similar to you you’re not going to be connecting with people who are at the top of your industry.
‘Make sure that you differentiate between friends – and it’s OKto have friends at work – but that there is a difference between friends and contacts and making sure that you also make contacts and understand that there is a place for that in your network as well.
The second thing is the follow through. Men tend to be generally a lot more transactional – they’ll be more comfortable saying “I want this, you want this, lets help each other out” and women will be a lot less comfortable having that conversation, but there’s a place for that.
‘For example if what you really want is a meeting with someone because you really want a job, then you don’t have to do something that feels really uncomfortable like just asking them for a job, but doing something that feels slightly transactional. So saying something like, ‘“Your career is so amazing, I would really value your advice. Would you mind if I emailed you to have a quick coffee?” Also people love to be flattered so take advantage of that and most people love to help other people, especially people who remind them of themselves.’
Be sure to follow through on the connection
‘If you don’t do the follow through, you can network as much as you want but it’ll be completely pointless. Make sure that you turn the connection into a contact by either saying to them right there and then, if the conversation allows, “Is it OK if I follow up with you?” and take their card or give yours. Or if you feel like you can’t do that, email them after or even phone them and say “I’ve been thinking about meeting you, I found it incredibly inspiring, I would really value your advice on this topic”. Or eeven offering them something, saying, “we talked about this last night and I saw this really interesting piece on it and thought you might find it interesting”. So picking up on something and converting it into a really good contact that you could use again.
It’s important to network in real life as well as online
‘They both have a place so I don’t think you should neglect either of them. You can’t do it all online because you still need those personal connections and you still need to get your face seen in your industry. People will respond really well to that so I think you really need to do that.
‘If you don’t have an online presence or your online presence doesn't reflect who you are and you don’t use it properly for networking then you’re doing yourself a massive disservice. Make sure that you are on LinkedIn with a really professional photo and following up: if you see something on Twitter that someone has posted and you think, “wow that person’s an influencer in my industry and I’ve got something to say about that” follow up on that. You’ve got so many more avenues and opportunities now, it’s crazy not to use them.’
Understand your brand
‘It sounds a bit American but having a brand, knowing what you’re good at, what you’re trying to do and having a really clear message is really important. For example, your social media should reflect exactly what it is you want to be doing. Even as something as simple as the way you’re dressed: making sure that that reflects and is appropriate for the industry you’re in. Make sure that everything about you is shouting what you want to convey.
Remember that you have a lot to offer
‘Young people have a lot to offer the people their trying to connect with. So if you’re thinking about more senior people in your industry, you have a lot of knowledge that you don’t have. For example their knowledge of about social media and anything online is probably going to be worse than yours.
‘Even people who are 10 years older don't have an understanding of things that seem really obvious to you so really use that to connect with people and as something to offer. Just because you’re more junior or younger doesn't mean that you can’t offer them something equally as useful.’
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