Brand You: why you should always say yes to networking (even if you're terrified)

November 20th 2016 / Phanella Mayall Fine

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Even a latte and a chat could kick start your next career move, say the Step Up Club's Phanella Mayall Fine and Alice Olins. After all, 75% of jobs are found via networks. Here's how to lose the fear of networking and work the contacts you already have

We know that it is cold outside. We know the sun goes down at 4pm and henceforth your non-work thoughts generally revolve around comfy sofas, box sets and nourishing bowls of soup/curry/pasta (delete as appropriate).

We also know that all of these Hygge-vibe cosy evenings mean that during the cold winter months, networking events become even less appealing. It was OK in the summer, when you could swing by for an alfresco glass of bubbles, but now that the cold has closed in, many of us are starting to politely decline those vital, career-enhancing social invites.

We say: the soup can wait. Why? Because networking is the beating heart at the centre of your career body. Without it, you exist in a vacuum. Careers are about people and relationships – and whatever industry you’re in, you always need to be building new links so that your system of tiny networking capillaries can continue to grow and thrive.

Did you know, for example that around 75 per cent of new jobs are found through networks? Yup, the majority of new appointments are made either internally via the office grapevine or beyond the office walls at business social events.

Not looking for a new job? Then perhaps this will interest you: the majority of new business comes through word of mouth too. Yes, you guessed it networking also brings in the money.

Take it from us (a pair of once shy career girls, who now find it impossible to put the career chat away) networking really is the lifeblood of your career. Because as we’ve already said, it’s people – not the hard daily graft – who breathe life and opportunities into your work, whatever stage you’re at.

Talking at a slight tangent now, Step Up Club members and people we’ve met while promoting our book, often ask us about mentors. And they always ask the same question: where do I find one? The answer (you know what’s coming now) is simple: your network. Networking isn’t just about meeting new people, it's about accessing and engaging with the ones you’re already tapped into. And that applies to building mentoring relationships and finding a sponsor.

As we say in the book, the first thing you need to do when you’re thinking about networking, is to realise and appreciate the one you’ve already got. Don’t just go through your work email list; push it further. Trawl your Facebook account; think about those friends (and friends of friends) you knew in childhood; others who you met at university; even the ones who just live nearby and you bump into now and again at the local farmers market. All of these people (and many, many more) are valid markers on your networking map – and each could lead you to something new and exciting at work.

So how do you actually grow your network?

1. Stop using the word networking. The word alone can fill even the boldest of us with dread – so instead, repackage the concept. Break it down: what is networking? It’s conversations. And chances are you’re already pretty good at those. So there you are, networking is just a conversation with a work purpose. Conversations with a purpose; see, not scary at all.

2. Once you meet people make sure to LISTEN. We spend so much time during conversations trying to work out what we’re going to say that often we forget to just be in the moment and hear what people are saying. People love to be heard and you often don’t need to say much to make an impression. Plus, listening means you can connect with people at a level and on subjects that really interest them, rather than spending the whole conversation stressing about how to fit what you want to say into a space where it doesn’t fit.

3. Shift your mindset. Instead of going into a room and worrying about what you’ll get out of the networking event, think about what you can offer. Even as someone young or junior, you’ll always have your own unique spin on things – whether that’s tech knowledge, for example, or just your time. Reverse the mental ticker tape from fear and desperation, towards generosity. Because once you are in a giving frame of mind, you’ll feel more relaxed – and that’ll make more people interested in talking to you.

4. Know your story. And tell it with heart. Have a short, concise version of your elevator pitch so that you can share what you do and your goals succinctly. But remember to also give a sense of who you are. Really engage with other people. Try thinking about what attracts you (in a career capacity) to others. We bet it isn’t their dexterity with an ExCel spreadsheet, rather it’ll be their manner, their way with words, or that funny story they once told you about mistaking their boss for the cleaner. Now, practice your story to family and friends. Remember, don’t ramble – you’re aiming for 90 seconds – but as we’ve said, make it natural and memorable.

5. Always take the meeting. Yes, many of us lead very busy lives, but if a new work contact asks you for a meet up – go. You never know what might come from half an hour over two cappuccinos. Perhaps, it’ll be your next big career move.

6. Business cards at the ready. If you don’t have your details at hand, all your hard work is likely to be lost into the ether. Ok, not all of us have business cards; if your company doesn’t supply them, order your own. We love Moo.com for modern, stylish versions of the classic black and white business card. If it’s applicable, add your social handles too. Social media is a fertile networking ground across many industries. So have all your details ready to pass over at the end of the night.

7. Follow up. There’s no point putting the soup on the back burner, telling your career story with meaning and slapping the coolest business card in the hand of the most awesome guest on the block, if you don’t follow up. It’s easy: a day or so after meeting someone new send an email to cement the connection. And then, once you’ve done this, it’ll be easy to reconnect when the right moment arises – perhaps you’ve just read a newspaper feature you’d know they’d be interested in, or maybe you want to introduce them to someone else whose career path is heading in the same direction? Whatever it is, keep your networking heart beating to ensure those connections stay alive.

Step Up – Confidence, Success and Your Stellar Career in 10 Minutes a Day (£12.99) by Phanella Mayall Fine and Alice Olins

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