Coffee Break: Networking. Love it or loathe it?!
You’ve heard the stats, it’s estimated that up to 85% of job opportunities come through people’s networks. And while most people understand how important networking is, they often shy away from it, certainly that’s true for me but I have decided no more, I am going to be positive and put myself out there. There are lots of good articles about how to network for people who hate networking (see links below) so rather than repeat, here are a few things I have tried recently that seem to be working.
1. Turn your struggle into a compelling story.
According to Kathy Caprino in a 2016 Forbes article, the first rule of networking is to learn how to talk about yourself in an engaging, memorable and compelling way. Caprino goes on to say that “if we want to build mutually-beneficial relationships and elicit great support from people, we have to be extremely clear about who we are, what we’re doing in the world, and precisely what we need help with”. By turning my struggle to find interesting work into a project, I have created a vehicle to reach out to people, a story that connects with their experiences and a reason to start a larger conversation about finding meaningful work later in life.
This is especially important for people going through a career transition says Herminia Ibarra in her HBR article What’s Your Story. Ibarra notes that ‘‘telling a compelling story to coworkers, bosses, friends or family or even strangers in a conference room will inspire belief in our motives, character, and capacity to reach the goals we’ve set’. She advises that you need to create a story that links your old and new selves, one that joins up your past, present, and future into a compelling whole. Simply listing off the highlights of your CV in chronological order won’t do it. Remember the whole reason to tell a story is to create a narrative that draws people in and makes them want to get to know you better.
2. Use social media to reach out and make new contacts.
My first inclination was to think of social media as simply a way to promote what I was doing but of course that was short-sighted. Social media should be seen as a dialogue not a monologue, like in-person networking it is not about selling yourself but building connections and finding ways to be helpful and supportive to others. LinkedIn and Twitter have been a way for me to share my 50:50 Interviews and also discover new people and organisations who are thinking about some of the same issues. I have had so many people reach out to me — sometimes just to say they like what I am doing or to invite me on their podcasts or to suggest we work together on new projects. In the words of Gwyneth Paltrow, it’s all good! Of course, you still need a plan to think through what you want to achieve and decide how to be your best self — someone who engages, starts conversations and is seen to be helpful. There is definitely a learning curve and I am still on it but like most things the more you put into it the more you get out. Here again, LinkedIn can help, you will find a wealth of information on LinkedIn Learning to get you started. Sprout Social and Hubspot also have loads of great articles.
3. Experiment with different types of networking and education events until you find the right combination that works for you.
I have been casting my net wide and seeking out a variety of events that appeal broadly to me because of the topic or the speakers or a combination. My thinking is that by going to events where I have a natural interest, it will be easier to find a shared connection and even if I don’t, I will have learned something new.
Eventbrite has proved very helpful in highlighting interesting events, many of which are free or offered at a nominal fee. Earlier this month I attended Creativity+Opportunity, a free event hosted by the global PR firm, Hill and Knowlton. The British Library Business and IP Centre run loads of talks and workshops that you should definitely check out. Finally, I recently discovered General Assembly and attended an evening course to learn more about Design Thinking and then the following week I returned to hear an inspiring talk about women in tech called ‘How She Got There’. At this event, I met one of my future interviewees, Fleur Emery. The key is finding a way to network that works for you and if you find your approach isn’t working for you, try something else.
Some helpful links: