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Networking Fundamentals

Too many people spend too little time building connections to create mutually rewarding relationships

Networking matters for your career and employability, job hunting or career change, and for your mental wellbeing. It matters more than choosing the right university degree or even the right profession; your professional life depends on it.

Tip 1: Have fun and keep it quick

Half the fun of networking is getting to know new people. So don’t be afraid to make the first move. Wear your name badge at a workshop, put on your lanyard at a conference, carry business cards with your who, what, where so that you can talk about the how and why with new connections. You can keep first encounters quick and non-committal.

Alternatively, opt for a low key coffee or lunch catch-up and if rewarded with a positive vide, you are both left wanting more. Plus, no need to get too hung up on personal details because there is always LinkedIn where you can check out professional profiles later. LinkedIn is also great for pre-conference ‘people research’ and networking or use Twitter to find out what they are passionate about and have been talking about recently.

Tip 2: Context matters

The after party, networking breaks, or conference dinner can add to your stress levels especially if you are going alone. It feels a bit like speed dating on Groundhog Day. Instead, look out for good vibe opportunities: chat with someone as you wait in line for a coffee at work, ask over lunch how people are finding the conference, or get to the workshop a little early and sit at a half-full table rather than alone. In our new hybrid world, join Yammer at work or university and see what’s happening on and off-line in groups that appeal to you. Virtual conferences are creating more cosy formats to ‘meet the experts’ for early career professionals.

And you don’t have to go it alone. Ask your workmates to attend an event together, such as a virtual training session, charity bike ride, or present a conference paper, and bring new connections back to your group to share experiences. Or better still, add to your credibility by getting a ‘warm’ introduction where you are introduced to someone through a mutual contact in class or at a conference for instance.

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Tip 3: Split the bill

When on a date it’s a good idea to split the bill or at least offer to. Similarly, networking is built on reciprocity. In other words, forcus on your offer and give, give, give–and receive–but don’t wait until you need help before you give. However, when you do need help, ask for it and be specific. Don’t expect people, or your date, to read between the lines.

Tip 4: Keep an open mind

Performance matters but don’t be too quick to critique new people. Keep an open mind as you form new professional relationships be they in your daily work environment to help each other accomplish routine tasks (operational network), with kindred spirits outside your organisation (personal network), or people outside your influence who can help make your dream a reality (strategic networks). These new connections are unfamiliar with what are your likes or dislikes and you need time to learn more about each other, so tread gently and you will be rewarded with a more authentic relationship. Always make time to communicate and build trust together.

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And Tip 5: Enjoy the journey

And we’ve all heard the adage ‘fake it ’til you make it’. Does this sound authentic and breed confidence? No! It also suggests that you are on a one-directional career path to ‘make it’. Yet your future of work is multidirectional and you will be career making everywhere over your working life. The Foundation for Young Australians report estimates that a 15-year-old today will potentially having 17 different jobs over five careers in their lifetime.

Why not change your mindset by choosing a different metaphor to live by such as a journey where you can imagine lots of opportunities to explore and challenges to encounter. Anticipate that everyone you meet is on their own journey too and be genuinely interested in the work they are doing. Remember, we are all explorers, strategically map making across social networks together.

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