Networking. I know the mere mention of the word is enough to have many of you feeling anxious and wanting to run out the door.
Stop. Don't run yet! Networking is vital. It opens doors to opportunities that you wouldn't otherwise find. Let me give you an example. A coaching client of mine, Emily, has worked with her employer for a couple of decades. And she's started to wonder what to do next. Together we developed a pretty clear picture of her dream job and dream employer. Building on her current experience and taking it to a whole new sector.
Emily and I have discussed networking a lot. I have encouraged her to get input from others and connect with people in the new sector.
It's fair to say she wasn't too keen on reaching out to people. I'm sure you've had that feeling too. "I don't have time" or "He/she is too busy/too important to want to talk to me" or "I don't want anyone to feel pressured or obliged".
Emily is an amazing woman. Smart, savvy, interesting and fun. She decided to be brave and experiment with this networking stuff. She reached out to someone working at her 'dream' employer.
Next thing you know; she receives an email from her new connection:
It was great to meet you last week and find out a bit more about you. As luck would have it, this role has just been re-advertised and I reckon it's one that would suit you to a tee. We've been asked to send it around to people that might be interested and I thought of you. Let me know if you're keen.
Emily WAS keen. She applied. She got an interview.
I know this makes it sounds almost too easy to be true. And, to be fair, it doesn't always happen this miraculously. And you may be thinking "but I'm not looking for a new job so I don't need to worry about networking".
Networking opens up opportunities beyond new jobs.
There are three keys to networking:
1. Connect - in person, by phone, by email. Reach out. Smile and say hello. Introduce yourself (click here if you want to read more about one of my favourite frameworks for a simple introduction)
2. Be Curious - ask questions, preferably open questions.
Have a few favourite questions in your kit bag. At a conference they might be things like:
What made you decide to come to this conference/session today?
What's your key take-out from what you've heard today?
Who was the most engaging speaker today? Why?
I also like to have a few wildcard questions up my sleeve, just for fun. They might include:
Are you a mustard or tomato sauce person?
Do you prefer movies or books?
What's your favourite ice cream flavour?
What's been your best holiday and why?
3. Close - the most important close is "thank you". Second most important: if you say you are going to provide something to someone - follow up and make sure you do it.
So there it is. Three keys to networking that will help you open doors to opportunities.