Introduction

Feel that your skills and talents have not yet been recognized?  You’re not alone.  The average length of tenure at organizations is falling from eight years a generation ago to 2.5 years today.  The world of work is changing as a new generation is looking to advance their career through growth opportunities. When you really want to reach your potential, be that as an entrepreneur-to-be learning the ropes at a start-up or an employee, then you need to work hard to find the perfect fit between you and your employer.

Networking is the answer because it alone provides the most useful exchange of information about the work. It can provide fresh ideas for your job search, be that new organization or a subtle shift in role and industry. Every meaningful interaction can raise your profile amongst decision-makers, which might lead to your next job. It also widens your support network for whatever you face down the line.

Know where you’re heading

In order to get where you want to go, first, you have to figure out what your goal is. You have to be clear about the roles and industries of those you want to be talking to, and where you can find your niche. Ideally, you should have chosen job titles that you want and the job titles of those that can help you. Talking directly to the decision maker directly is what will assist you most effectively. It might seem scary to go straight to that person from the start but that's what matters.  You can also identify people who may be lower down than the decision maker and can provide you with useful information. Remember that whoever you speak to, your objective is not just to get a job or land a deal from the people you speak to as you can learn from these peoples' choices. What companies did they choose? Where did they go, and why did they do it?

But my network isn't that great

People often say they don’t think that their network is great. That’s not a problem. Everyone has more people in their network than they realize. Everyone. It's a matter of understanding who's on that network, and then selectively reaching out and understanding how you can help them. Most importantly, it's about asking strangers for directions like we talked about before.

The fact of the matter is, most people simply don't know how. The world of networking has evolved beyond the standard elevator pitch and there are networking avenues. There are all sorts of avenues for discovering new connections, particularly using social media. LinkedIn is a great place to start, but don’t limit yourself, you likely have a world of connections you can find and leverage using Facebook, Twitter, or even Instagram.  Any professional or alumni associations you can get involved with will undoubtedly be a great resource as well.

Reframe your attitude to networking

A lot of people still think that networking for a job is sleazy and kind of desperate. The example I hear most often is something like ‘I go to networking events, but all I meet are people desperate to give me their business cards and find out if I'm somebody important.’

 Now, for most people, maybe. A cynic would see this as how to "warm up" your target employer before ever setting foot in an interview.  But there's a way to do it genuinely and tactfully. Like most things in life, there's always more than one motivator and we should embrace this. At all times, humanize the interaction — to make it about people and relationships again.

The simplest way to do this is to don’t pay attention so much attention to your self interest. Focus on providing value to this person that you're speaking to and creating a win-win-win situation for everybody. This happens most easily when you are at the same time confident and humble. That is when you're not putting yourself down; you're simply raising all those up around you. See the brilliance in those you talk to and how you can help them even more.  It's a matter of focus.

When I talk to most people about networking their response is that others don't have time to help total strangers, nor do they care to. Actually, that's not correct. Most people love helping out, and they'll help you too if you're a top performer. Why? It's for the same reason that we help people that asking for directions in the street. Humans like helping other humans. Always doing in networking is asking for directions in the context of a career. Now, of course, it's a bigger ask so will explore how to ensure that you come across as credible and likable so that person is more likely to help you.  Most people won't send the email because they're stuck on there. But what’s the worst that can happen? They ignore you? It's not the end of the world. Far from it you have gained the confidence of contacting others.

Do your homework

When you really value your time and the person's time, you're speaking to, then you won't ask questions you can find out with simple research on the Internet. Things like the average salary,  the list of responsibilities and daily activities can be found by looking at existing jobs in that area.  You have to go beyond this by finding out what you really need to know in order to make a decision about where you heading in your career.

 You're trying to figure out why this job is more interesting than others.  When you're doing it which of your abilities will be most useful that you can't leave from a job description. Often this will focus around the hardest parts of the Rock that you can ask about,  but bear in mind your strengths and weaknesses will make this you need to you. 

You want to get to know more about the different teams and the work culture to understand who will influence your success and satisfaction. It's often not clear exactly how long the hours are and you can pick into the balance between work and non-work ideal?

What you're also looking for is to understand the industry trends, gain insights about how to add value in the role you’re looking to enter and seek advice for your next steps, be that recommendations on ways to learn, resources to upscale with all people to talk to.

Start by supplementing your existing knowledge around that person,be it the role and the industry.  You’ll get better insights when you can show that you’re sincerely and interested in who they are and what they do. Follow them on social networks and engage with them so that you get noticed be it on their blog or on Twitter. In this way you're not just researching these people, but also actively building a relationship with them. Of course, all of this takes time and effort as networking is an investment and you'll have to make a judgement call about how important this contact is and how much time do you want to give to this process.  When this could be your dream job, then it's worth putting in those extra hours.

Conclusion

Most importantly – don’t get discouraged! Building worthwhile relationships, in life as well as in networking, takes time and effort. With this attitude your efforts will be targeted and streamlined to achieve maximum effect and the success you deserve. The most important part of networking isn’t meeting people—it’s following up, being helpful and staying in touch over the long term.

You can leave behind the people holding you back. All it takes is for you to go outside your comfort zone and push yourself for new opportunities. Break through the norm and make meaningful relationships.  Lastly, always consider it as an investment. It is a costly exercise and you must be prepared to invest in it both financially and mentally.

Martin Underwood is the Head of Career Strategy at Life Productions, helping lawyers and other professionals find a better career fit and take practical action through advice, courses and networking.

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