Networking. The word alone can be enough to send a chill down anyone’s spine, conjuring up images of poorly-fitting suits and business cards.
But, unfortunately for the many, many people who hate networking, this is something we just have to do as part of our careers.
Ever heard that it’s not what you know, but who you know? As you make your way through the working world, you’ll find that’s true.
We all need to make connections, whether that’s to get on better with co-workers, build reliable contacts for when you go freelance, get advice in your field from people who’ve been there, or seek out clients who will give you regular jobs.
It’s not just reserved for stereotypical business types, and it doesn’t just happen at traditional networking events.
No matter the context, however, networking can be challenging, awkward, and uncomfortable.
So how can we settle into the motions, get confident, and do it better? Yetunde Hofmann, a leadership coach, mentor, and the founder of SOLARIS, shares her top tips.
Remember what you can gain
‘The first thing to do is to get your journal out and list all the reasons why you should network,’ Yetunde tells Metro.co.uk. ‘What will you gain from it?
‘If it’s an event in which you are likely to meet potential employers, it gives them a snapshot of what you want to do, why you want to do it, when and what you’d like to learn from them. Stay focused on this.’
If you can’t think of obvious, direct benefits for networking, think of each opportunity as practice; a way to get out of your comfort zone and boost your confidence.
Yes, it might be tough this time, but pushing through will mean the next time is easier.
‘The more you network, the more you’ll grow, personally and professionally,’ Yetunde says.
‘The higher the career ladder you climb the more important networking will be to your success too, so getting the practice in early means you’ll be a pro when you need it most.
‘The more you do it the less scary it becomes so dive in and see what it can do.’
Do your research
Preparation is key.
Yetunde recommends: ‘One of the ways of getting over the ‘hate’ of networking is to swot up before you go, so you feel prepared.
‘Take some time to find out who will be there. Organisers of events tend to publish the names of speakers and the companies they come from, as well as names of everyone attending.
‘Knowing who will be there and who you can look out for will help lower any anxiety feeling you may have about stepping into a room of people you don’t know.’
Make a connection before you meet IRL
One way to reduce the nerves around a first-time meet? Chatting online beforehand. Just having one familiar face at an event can make all the difference.
‘LinkedIn is a great place to read up on the backgrounds of the people and companies,’ suggests Yetunde. ‘Try to make an early connection. A carefully worded and warm introduction note when you ask someone to connect with you on LinkedIn is very likely to receive a positive response and be a great conversation starter.’
Practice with people you know
There’s no shame in admitting that networking makes you nervous. Ask a pal of a colleague if you can do some practice runs with them to bolster your confidence.
‘If you are an introvert, firstly take comfort in the fact that you are not the only one and secondly know that practicing will help you feel much better when it comes to an event that means a lot to you,’ says Yetunde.
‘Practice by reaching out to people you know relatively well – for example your university lecturers or fellow junior colleagues.’
Prep some questions
People love to be asked about themselves. Avoid the horror of a total blank and the ensuing awkward pause by having some questions up your sleeve.
‘It’s also a great idea to sign up for a few free online and virtual networking events or seminars and go armed with two or three key and intelligent questions that you can ask when the host or facilitator invites attendees to ask questions,’ notes Yetunde. ‘The power of networking is that it gets you noticed and a way to be noticed positively is to ask a great question.’
Know that you have something to offer
Never go into an event thinking you have no right to be there.
Yetunde tells us: ‘You have something wonderful and special to offer and this is something you must believe and appreciate in yourself.
‘Your only job when networking, especially when you’re looking for that next job and/or a promotion, is to ensure that your talent is discovered by the right person and company.
‘In your head, have a list of your skills – what you are technically great at and why? What qualifications do you have? What do you love to do? Ask a friend or a member of your family what they believe you’re great at and why.
‘Everyone has something great to offer and you are no exception. The key is to ensure you can list this. If you cannot remember all of this, then make sure you take a journal with you or ensure you’ve written them down in your phone and are able to reach for it.
‘No one would laugh if you asked for a minute to reach for your journal or phone in response to being asked what you think you’re good at and what you’d like to do with your future.’
Remember that everyone gets nervous
‘It’s important to remember that most people get nervous about networking – however good they are at hiding it,’ says Yetunde. ‘Lots of other people in the room will be feeling exactly the same as you.
‘The other people there are also doing the same as you are – wanting to meet people with whom they can build relationships that benefit you both – so it’s a win-win situation for everybody.’
Check your body language
Are you standing in the corner with crossed arms and RBF? Make an effort to shake out the tension and give people a smile.
Yetunde says: ‘There is nothing more disarming than a genuine smile. Smile and make eye contact with people as you enter a room.’
Believe that people want to help
Other people aren’t waiting to point and laugh – most are friendly and want to help out. Trust in that.
‘Know that people love to help,’ Yetunde explains. ‘Helping others makes us happy humans. It is human nature that people love to be asked for their advice, so why don’t you take the opportunity to list a few people whose help and/or advice you would really appreciate and then ask them?’
Yetunde Hofmann is the founder of SOLARIS, – a pioneering new leadership development programme for Black women – a board level executive leadership coach and mentor and global change, inclusion and diversity expert.
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