Networking is one of those things – loved by some, hated by others. Whatever your view, it is a necessary part of achieving commercial success. Improving your networking skills is not just about attending an after work event. It is about identifying your key stakeholders and understanding the importance of building productive professional relationships.
What are Networking Skills?
Networking refers to the ability of exchanging ideas and information with groups as well as individuals that have shared interests, such that long-term relationships are developed for mutual benefit. In simple words, networking skills are the ability to make contacts through a process that is two-way. Simply filling out your address book with the names and numbers of some influential people is not enough.
How does One Practice Networking Skills?
If you’re attending a professional event, you should make the most of your time there, as with any other aspect of your working life. Being a wallflower won’t move the needle, so keep the following four things in mind and do the accompanying exercises to set yourself up for success.
- Come Prepared with Objectives: Hitting it off with one fascinating person and spending the whole time getting to know him or her could be better than briefly meeting 10 people, or it could not—depending on the person and depending on your goals. Activity: Type out the answers to the following: 1) What is the best-case scenario that results from you attending the event in question and networking, and 2) What is a realistic goal to set that makes that a possibility?
- Follow up: Everybody who has a pile of business cards they collected but never followed up on, raise your hand…Did networking actually do you any tangible good at all at the events where you collected those? Activity: Grab one of those cards right now, check out the person’s Twitter feed and send a quick and casual email that has the potential to start a conversation if the other party chooses to take the bait. Following up doesn’t have to be high-stakes, and even the most casual acquaintanceship can be a crucial in when you need a favor.
- Practice: After all, a musician doesn’t encounter a piece for the first time at the recital. If you’re an introvert, it makes little sense to rehearse your awkward networking skills at the very events where you need them to be in fine working order. The whole world can be your practice arena. Activity: Strike up a conversation with a stranger this week. If talking to somebody on your commute seems too weird at first, go for a captive audience, perhaps the person working the cash register at your coffee shop (as long as it’s not too busy!). The conversation doesn’t have to be long, deep or even non-coffee-related, but extra points if you learn something interesting or surprising.
- Make Yourself Approachable: Remember, you’re not the only one looking to make connections. If you give them an in, people might be eager to take the first step and talk to you. Something as minor as wearing an interesting accessory or carrying a book others may have read could be that in.
- Activity: If there will be speakers and audience Q&A, draft up three relevant questions and frame them in a way that lets other attendees know where you work and what projects you’re tackling. Not only will you learn something from the answer, you’ll give others the opportunity to discuss those and other issues further with you.
Importance of Having Networking Skills
An overwhelming majority of successful people, when asked, say they owe their success to their networking skills. Following are some of the benefits that may help illustrate why networking is important:
- It Makes You Prominent
In a world where we are faced with continuous bombardment of advertisements, emails, and several kinds of sales pitches, messages are usually a clutter. Networking helps you form personal relationships due to which you are able to rise above all that noise and make yourself or your organization stand out.
- Addition to Your Knowledge Base
Your networking abilities provide you with a great opportunity to share ideas and information. It is possible for you to meet and learn from the experience of people who have been in life where you currently are. As a result, through networking you learn to see things from different perspectives.
- It Provides Opportunities
Whenever an employer is confused between hiring one of the two people that are equally qualified, he will go for the one he likes and trusts more. Hence, it is clear how networking can give rise to opportunities such as referrals, partnerships, and sales etc.
How can One Improve His/Her Networking Skills?
Knowing that networking is the fuel that accelerates success, you can improve your networking skills in the following way:
- Interact Face-to-Face
With the increasing use of internet and social media, many deem it appropriate to use these as a good way to keep in touch. The reality, however, is that you need to get off that computer of yours and make real time, face-to-face interactions.
- Keep in Mind Your Destination
Focusing on the bigger picture is important but what is even more important is setting smaller and attainable goals which feed the larger, overarching goals but help you measure success while you are on your way to it. You must set goals that are directly related to your networking efforts. For example, aiming to get 3 business cards at a particular industry event can be a networking goal.
- Work on Your Mindset
Forget the purpose of developing the relationships while you’re networking. Don’t treat anyone like a business contact. Rather, treat them as your friends and this will make things go a lot smoother during your interactions, without you being distracted by the thoughts of end results that you wish to achieve.
A “network” consists of people you know and the people they know. When you talk to people you know about your job search, find out who they know who can also help you with your job search. This is “networking.” Networking is the most effective way to find a job; approximately 70 percent of all jobs are found this way. In addition, it allows you to find out about jobs that are never advertised—the “hidden job market,” which accounts for 80 percent of all available jobs.