Furthering your career in today’s marketplace increasingly depends on your networking skills.
Strengthening your circle of influence has never been more important, and yet many people are not active enough because they don’t understand the strategy required. Developing your communication skills and testing your ideas will increase opportunities for professional development.
Although both junior and senior executives talk about the importance of networking, many are still intellectually detached from the opportunities it offers. Meeting new people, assimilating knowledge and seeing how others operate when networking can help you achieve the success you are seeking in your own career.
Embarking on the networking circuit can be daunting, particularly if you don’t have a planned approach and are unaware of the pitfalls to avoid. Just as in life, business success is earned by thinking ahead. A good executive is a natural communicator, and to be successful in a networking environment, you must make sure that when you get the opportunity to contribute you make it count. By engaging with what others are saying and being pro-active, you will integrate yourself into the debate.
Being a good listener helps to get over the initial reticence many feel when thrown into a roomful of strangers, especially when they may occupy more senior roles and exert more influence in their organisations. Focus on the individual, not the title. You may learn a lot and grow in confidence as the exchange takes place.
Being yourself in this kind of environment will help you communicate. Hierarchy should not define how you approach this kind of interaction, or what topics you are happy to discuss. The more you engage in this type of gathering, the more you will learn and the more your own skills will develop.
Peer learning is an underestimated skill. Networking can be like a focus-group. Listen closely and see how you can improve your approach within your own organisation. By taking part in a dialogue with new people, you will find that you naturally think on your feet and improve your own communication skills, which you can use in the workplace. By being an active contributor to the debate, you will become a better networker, benefiting your own promotion prospects and your company’s performance.
In these digital environments, be prepared to ask an off-kilter question, especially with more senior executives. Companies are often looking for people who can think outside of the box or bring a microeconomic query to a macro discussion. Using a situation you are familiar with in your workplace during a discussion will make you stand out.
Remember, networking is an information gathering environment; see it as being part of a think tank. Don’t be afraid to make notes, it will make you stand out as someone who is taking information on board. Recording interesting snippets of discussions can help to drive conversations forward and help with follow-up.
Which brings us to the question as to how you benefit most from the encounter. Always follow up the contacts you have made which you feel will help develop your career. This does not mean angling for a job, but rather showcasing your own views which may attract potential new employers or help you develop within your existing post with a view to promotion.
There are lots of social networks available to make this connection and develop your network. By leading the follow-up, you are acting as a catalyst for future opportunities and maintaining the conversation.
Networking is all about promoting your personal brand. Make people remember you, via an idea, standing out in the crowd and the impression you leave behind. This is not about self-promotion and being overbearing, but rather fitting into the conversation. The obvious danger is talking about yourself too much. Everyone recognises ambition and talent, but your life story is a turn-off. Make a significant part of the conversation about the person you are engaging with. How did they start out, what makes their job interesting and what changes would they make in hindsight? Gathering information is a key part of networking and will help move your career forward.
Checking out who you are likely to meet is also a good tip. Showing you know something of their own history is a great intro.
Always remember to say thank you for the time attendees have given you, either at the time or in a follow-up, especially if you have said you will stay in contact. Ultimately, networking does not offer short-term gain; it is about developing your own career.
Simon Lynch is the owner of Treasury Talent.
Treasury Talent is a specialist treasury talent provider solely focussed on the treasury market with offices in Sydney covering Australia, Singapore covering Asia, and San Francisco covering California and the USA. To make contact firstname.lastname@example.org