But where to start? If you were my coaching client, I would simply say: network, network, network.
And yet among my clients, networking is often an underdeveloped skill. Take Jerry, a 40-year-old business development manager in a financial services firm. His role is to build the business in Europe, so he has to make industry contacts, speak at conferences and look for new client relationships. He is now at a point in his career where he has to build internal networks, but instead of recognising that he is already a master networker, the very mention of the word makes him shudder. Why? Because in his mind, networking is associated with self-promotion, politics and inappropriate favours.
In truth, networking is a critical skill for managers and leaders: your network supports and sustains you in the good times, but is the key to your survival in the bad times.
And yet networking is difficult, even daunting, for managers who have no problem simply chatting to people. It doesn’t need to be so stressful. Here are some common mistakes people make when networking — and how to avoid them:
1. They think they don’t know anyone
We live in a networked age and most of us are connected to more people than we realise. Take 10 minutes to write a list of work colleagues (past and present), industry contacts, friends, family, college alumni and social acquaintances. You may surprise yourself — I recently coached a friend who claimed he had no contacts, but was still writing his list two hours after I prompted him!
Facebook and LinkedIn are online powerful gateways to contacts — see how far your network extends through your friends and colleagues. You may also have an online presence in the form of a blog or homepage — see who has been corresponding with you lately. Online networking sites such as freeagent (www.freeagentnet.com) and ecademy (www.ecademy.com) are easy ways to make quick connections. Twitter (www.twitter.com) is another useful social networking vehicle.
2. They don’t know how to introduce themselves
It can be hard to introduce yourself if you’ve just been laid off — after all, you’re probably used to saying, “I’m so-and-so and I work at such-and-such.” If you don’t currently have a job, be clear that you are in transition and looking for a new role. While you can refer back to what you did in your previous job, don’t dwell on that. Instead, draw attention to your interests and skills in order to take the conversation forward.
Before you make a phone call, consider your agenda and what you can realistically expect from the person. Think about the purpose of your conversation — is it to find out information or to seek further contacts? Being clear about what you want will be a more effective use of your and the contact’s time, and will create a better impression than a rambling speech. Be aware that they may not be in a position to do much, so be gracious if all they can offer are ideas, advice or their experience. Requesting a job isn’t appropriate at this stage and may result in you losing the contact. For networking emails, be personable and upbeat, but make sure your tone is appropriate to the person you are contacting — don’t go into “networking mode” if you are just reaching out to an old friend, for example.
3. They sound self-promoting
Networking is about selling yourself, but it can be hard to do that without sounding like a salesman. No wonder so many people dread networking.
One way to show (rather than tell) people how great you are is to have a few ‘STAR‘ stories up your sleeve. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Achievements and Results; it’s an easy way to tell a concise story that lets your talents and achievements speak for themselves. An example might be:
Situation: The customer services division of your company was losing customers, had falling revenues and a conflict-ridden team
Task: To stem the loss of customers, improve customer service, restructure the team and develop new products
Achievements: You held on to key accounts, resolved the conflict, rebuilt team morale and increased the visibility and positive reputation of the department.
Results: Increased revenues (figures), a high-performing customer service team, innovative products (examples) and happy customers.
A STAR story should take no more than five minutes to relate and should include enough detail to pique your contact’s interest without overwhelming him or her.
4. They don’t know how to work a room or a contact
If you are going to an event, remember that there will be many others in the same situation — especially in a downturn — and that the purpose of the event is to circulate among people. Focus on the other person by asking them what they like about their job, how they got it and what they would do if they were not in their current role. Exchange cards and don’t be embarrassed about moving on to the next person when the conversation is at a natural end.
If you are contacting someone by phone, check whether it is a convenient time for them to speak and reschedule the call if necessary. If your phoning or emailing someone you haven’t met personally, mention the person who gave you their name and how you know them. Ask how they got into their job, what it involves, where vacancies are advertised and how you might be considered for any roles if jobs are only advertised internally. Ask them for an introduction to other useful contacts or for a follow-up meeting.
5. They criticise the people or companies that laid them off
Think hard about how your story might sound to someone who has never met your nightmare ex-boss. Try to be positive, upbeat and open about looking for work, but avoid sounding desperate or blaming the company or others for being laid off. This will leave a bad impression and could close off contacts before you can begin to develop a relationship.
6. They forget to say thank-you
Good manners are critical for networking and are often overlooked, especially if you are under pressure to get a new job. Always thank a contact for their time and advice, either in a handwritten note or a follow-up email. And keep in touch — send them an article or notice of an event that might interest them. Keep in touch through social networking media, or drop them an occasional friendly email telling them how you are getting on. Let them know when you do secure a job. This will help you to maintain the person as a contact in your network — and allow you to return the favor when they’re looking for a job down the road.
Finally, don’t miss the opportunity to extend your network in even wider directions while you are unemployed. You might find it a surprising opportunity to consider different options, such as retraining or trying a new role (even a temporary one). Stay flexible and keep an open mind, and you might just find yourself in a better, more interesting career.
Do you have any useful tips for networking? What do you think is most important networking tip for people who have just been laid off?
Article by Gill Corkindale