I approach professional skill building from a behavioral perspective. It would be an oversight not to mention, however, when it comes to networking, there definitely seems to be a difference between men and women in terms of their comfort and commitment to this important aspect of managing your career and cultivating new business opportunities.
Women seem to resist the notion of networking for lots of reasons; we don’t think people will want to meet with us, we don’t want to bother busy people, we’re not sure what to talk about once we do have a networking meeting and we’re not always sure who we should be networking with. It can be awkward and uncomfortable to start a conversation with someone you don’t know – when you fear they might not want to talk with you! And the reasons go on and on.
I have found that once people think of networking as building relationships, and taking a sincere interest in others, the comfort level increases. It’s important to get out of your head and not overthink it but it’s also really important to have a plan and be prepared. You need to understand why you’re networking. Are you looking to meet more people in your business unit? Are you looking to meet more people outside your business unit but within your larger organization? Do you want to meet people in the industry for potential career opportunities? Are you networking to establish contacts for potential business opportunities within your current role? Understanding why you’re networking will help you determine who you should be meeting with.
The next step is to understand what you want to get out of a networking meeting. Are you looking to learn more about someone’s role within a company? Are you looking to understand the career paths of others so that this may help guide your own? Are you meeting with someone because you want them to get to know you, what you do and what you may want to do? Are you meeting with someone to build a bigger presence for yourself within your company or your industry? Being mindful of what you want to achieve as a result of a networking meeting will help you prepare for the meeting. Spending time formulating the questions you want to ask and the information you want to share about yourself is important to ensure you have a productive meeting.
And networking can take a couple of different forms. There are the events you think you should show up to, and so you do. Here you try and locate the people who could be meaningful to you in one way or another. It can be hit or miss. The other approach to networking is to identify someone who you want to speak with, and learn more about, and contact that person directly to spend some time.
It’s been my experience that when you reach out to someone to network with in a one-to-one situation, they are open to the discussion. People like to talk about their careers and their current roles. But they want you to do the heavy lifting, meaning you have to run the meeting. Let the person know what you’d like to discuss and why. We are all busy so use the time wisely which again comes down to the preparation. Be sure to have your personal ‘elevator pitch’ ready to share-be concise but don’t short sell your story. If networking for business opportunities, ask a lot of questions before you begin sharing about your firm. Get to know the person so you’ll be understand what features of your firm you want to highlight.
Building relationships is important so embrace it. But do your homework and stay at it…networking is a long journey!