Sharpen up your networking skills to improve your career prospects
by Emma Noble, Managing Director – Sharp Consultancy HR
Whilst putting in the hours and taking on additional responsibilities can help you get recognised by your superiors, one of the most effective ways to improve your career prospects is to brush up on your networking skills.
This essential tool not only helps to improve your company’s presence within the local business community, but provides the opportunity for you to share ideas, find new suppliers and above all seek out new business opportunities – all things which will stand you in good stead for a potential promotion or allow you to gain additional skills to make your next career move.
For some, having the confidence to network successfully is a difficult task in itself; ensuring that you prepare yourself in order to maximise these events is essential or you risk missing out on a great opportunity.
In the first instance, do some research and select the best type of event to suit your personality and approach to networking. A sit down lunch situation can often be a good introduction to networking – you will spend quite a bit of time with a smaller group of people and have the chance to engage in longer and more detailed conversations.
Events based around a theme or particular subject matter ensure attendees have a common interest which provides an ice breaker to strike up conversation.
Successful networking is not about the number of contacts that you make but the quality of the contacts that you come away with. Events which are based around the principals of speed dating can ensure you walk away with a stack of business cards but when meeting a large number of people in a short space of time then it is very difficult to strike up a meaningful conversation and truly establish how your skills and experience may be of benefit to somebody else.
Contacts should be followed up promptly – send through some relevant information or arrange a meeting; relationships develop over time so it is far more beneficial to concentrate upon a handful of relevant opportunities.
Learning how to package yourself correctly is the key to successful networking. The world is saturated with goods and service suppliers therefore it’s important that when you make the initial connection with a potential new business prospect you articulate yourself in a way that leaves them wanting to know more about you, your experiences and thoughts.
But don’t just keep the conversation focused upon work – more often than not the best business relationships can develop through mutual interests and hobbies and this common ground gives someone another reason to remember you.
It’s important that you strike a balance and ensure you don’t overdo it. Building a rapport at networking events requires attentiveness and active listening to ensure that you engage and commute openly, rather than rushing in to fill the space with your own agenda. You may hear something that might allow you to recall a nugget of essential information from your own personal or work experience, which could add value and just may get you that call or e-mail in the future.
My Top 5 tips when attending networking events are:
• Make real connections rather than having the sole thought of “I must network!”
• Be positive – optimism and engagement creates a demeanour that is welcoming.
• Use open questions to initiate conversation such as “What are you hoping to learn from today?”
• Think about the future – how are you going to follow up your conversations?
• Relax and enjoy the opportunity to meet new people.