Wednesday 1 May 2013

Networking for the Underconnected

Following on from my post about my lack of public speaking skills, I've decided that one of my Chartership goals is going to be improving my ability to network.
Networking is not a word that I've ever felt comfortable with. I'm a shy person by nature and the idea of 'working a room' is just not something that has ever appealed. However, I understand the value of having a network of people that you can turn to for professional advice so I've dusted off my LinkedIn profile and am attempting to be more proactive when I go to events from now on.
Naturally, first I did some background reading on effective networking (well, I do work in a huge library!). A lot of the information out there is geared towards using networking to get a new job or grow your business but I did find some tips that could be useful:

  • it's important to remember that networking doesn't have to be scary. We all network every day, we just don't call it that. How many times have you gone to a restaurant or called a plummer based on a recommendation? This is a form of networking even though most people don't see it that way. By networking you are making yourself and what you do known to people. In the future these people might think of you and recommend you to someone else based on your skills
  • you need to be yourself when networking. There has been a lot of talk (both good and bad) about having a personal brand but however you feel about this it's important to remember that trying to be someone you're not is very hard work. It's much easier to build up a rapport with people if you're being yourself, both online and offline
  • you can't underestimate the importance of a good 'elevator pitch'. This is a short couple of sentences that sum up what you do and why you're good at it. Elevator pitches can also be used to make eyecatching headlines on LinkedIn. I've put mine below:
Working in cataloguing means that I get to help users access the knowledge of the library. I really enjoy organising all the information that the library has and presenting it in a user friendly way, whilst the range of material means I never know what the day will bring
  • introverts work better if they have time to prepare before a networking event. They also benefit from having breaks during an event. You don't have to be actively networking all of the time - take yourself off to check your messages, or step outside for some fresh air. This will help you not to feel too overwhelmed and come back to the event ready to network
  • instead of worrying about people saying no to you when you're networking, think about the consequences of them saying yes - focusing on something positive helps you to project a positive attitude which others will respond to. And remember that if they do say no, it's not the end of the world!
  • LinkedIn and similar sites can be useful when trying to build a network, especially if the idea of face-to-face contact intimidates you. One of the best ways to build a network on LinkedIn is to join some groups that are relevant to your professional interests and then be active within them. I must admit that this is something I've struggled with in the past, I tend to join a group then sort of forget about it! From now on I'm taking my own advice and hope to make more of an effort to participate
  • if it's appropriate, link your other social media presences to LinkedIn. This gives you a chance to show your expertise in an area, for example through a work blog, and allows people to find you around the web. The big limitation on this is to make sure that what you are sharing reflects well on the image of yourself that you want to project, so don't link anything that you don't want associated with your professional identity
  • remember that networking is an ongoing process not just something that you do at specific networking events. It's important to keep up with your connections, even if only by 'liking' something that they have done online. Networking is a two-way process and if you help people as and when you are able to they are more likely to return the favour in future

One of the books I found most useful was "Networking for People who Hate Networking", which is geared towards introverts like me. I had always assumed that you had to be outgoing to make the most of networking but this book shows that this isn't always true; it helps but it's not essential. The key to being an introverted networker is to take time out to prepare and think. I'm always more comfortable in situations where I can think things through in advance so this idea really appealled to me.

Finally the most important thing to remember about networking is that not everyone will do it the same way, for example introverts and extroverts will be completely different. Look around, read some blogs/books and take the advice that works for you, not necessarily what works for everyone else!