9. NetworkingAre you one of those people that can walk into a busy room and leave an hour later, having spoken to people you’ve never met before and made new valuable contacts? To you, our old pros at networking, we say well done and feel free to look away at this point and check out our other articles. To many aspiring professionals we have encountered, networking can often be a painful, daunting and scary experience and tends to be something they’d rather avoid doing. 

In today’s connected world, networking, be it face to face or online has become hugely important. Whilst many ideas or definitions of networking exist, we have identified one which is perfect for networking beginners

‘Networking is the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business.’

Merriam-Webster dictionary

You might be a recent graduate looking for a job, an early career scientist looking for a solution to an experiment you have been struggling with or a budding poet or writer looking to get your work published or you might simply be in a new city and need to interact with like-minded people. If so and for so many other reasons, then you will benefit from networking. Honestly in our opinion, every aspiring professional benefits from networking.

In this article, we will focus on five baby steps into the world of networking and in the follow up article (Part II) we will provide tips to make your networking experience more effective and even enjoyable.

So, where to begin????

Location, location, location – Realising where to network can ensure you recognise opportunities to network that are not seemingly obvious. Conferences and meetings are very good venues for networking but they are by no means the only places where you can network. Networking is about cultivating relationships. In your current place of employment, how many productive relationships have you developed in the last week…month…year?

Think about networking events as a marketplace. People rarely go to the market empty handed, its all about exchange – give and take. 

There is no perfect place to network. For students, interacting with other students at college or university, engaging with tutors,  joining societies or doing a sport can be good places to start. For researchers, businesses or other professionals; attending networking events, themed seminars, workshops, exhibitions, trade shows and conferences are key areas for developing and building networks. For students and professionals alike, creating profiles on social networking sites such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, ResearchGate, Mendeley and Facebook provides limitless opportunities for networking on a global scale. Social networking can also support advertising for your goods and services if you run a business.

If you will be going to a networking event or a conference sometime in the near future, why not task yourself to make at least one new meaningful professional contact? Come on, you can do it!

Be Prepared – In most cases, a list of names and organisation represented or the people/delegates who will attend the event is published beforehand and included in your delegate pack/meeting information. Take a few minutes and look at the list and identify any individuals of interest, who cultivating a relationship with may be beneficial to you in whatever capacity. It always looks good when you approach someone and you know something about them, things like, where they are from or what they do as it serves as an ice-breaker for conversation. It is also important that you see the relationship you would like to develop as a symbiotic one, where both parties benefit. Networking is about what you can do for someone else as much as what they can do for you.

Think about networking events as a marketplace. People rarely go to the market empty handed, its all about exchange – give and take. 

Start small – If you consider yourself a beginner or newbie to networking then it is best to start small i.e. grow into it as it is not about the number of people you speak to or make contact with but whether the contact translates into a positive outcome. Networking is not a competition or a ‘notice me’ venture. If you are able to make one useful contact from a meeting with a 1,000 delegates, still count it as success. We get better by doing, so set yourself a goal before you set out!

But I am not a natural – Some of us have laid back, reserved or quiet personalities which makes us hesitant in approaching people to speak to them at events. Whilst as a long term objective we would advise to look for ways to grow in confidence in speaking to people and speaking publicly, as a starting point, it also helps to ask someone you already know to introduce you to the person you would like to speak to.  If you do not know anyone else at the event, perhaps speak to the event organisers and ask if they can connect you with the lady or gentleman you want to network with and more often than not, they’ll be happy to do so! We would recommend the book, ‘The fine art of small talk‘ by Debra Fine to start working on developing your confidence. In our experience, most people are usually happy to talk at events so why not take a plunge. What’s the worst that could happen?

Gone in 30 Seconds – Once you get the chance to interact with your contact or the person(s) you have identified, remember, they do not have all the time in the world to speak to you.  Be clear, concise, friendly and engaging. Offer them a firm handshake, make eye contact and remember the first few seconds do really matter. We call it Gone in 30 seconds because first impressions do matter and failure to make the right impression would ensure your contact leaves you flat footed in their wake.

Therefore, use the first few seconds wisely but before you approach your contact, “think about what you want from the contact AND also what you have to offer

Get started with building your online professional profile, think about your skills and abilities and look for events and conferences where you can find like-minded people. In the follow up article, we will offer tips to ensure you have an enjoyable and worthwhile networking experience.

If you enjoyed reading this article, please share and subscribe to our network! If you have an article you would like to share with our readers, please get in touch – info@aspiringprofessionalshub.com.

Written by aspiringprofessionalshub

We started the Aspiring Professionals Hub to be an information hub for aspiring professionals to share their experiences – achievements, mistakes, successes, lessons learnt - with like-minded individuals. As aspiring professionals ourselves, we are aware of the challenges faced by other aspiring professionals in their career journey. Our aim is to provide a forum where we can engage with our readers and have discussions about Careers & Employability, Education, Entrepreneurship and Skills – related issues.

15 comments

  1. Nice article. I would suggest to those who develop cold feet towards meeting new people to ‘just do it’. They wont bite and you would save yourself the stress of regretting not speaking up when you should have. Forget what they would think about you (in reality they are too busy to think anything) and realize always that you are not being too forward too.

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