Networking is becoming serious business. More professional bodies and university students now see networking skills as a key part of their career toolkit.
The ability to find, cultivate and maintain connections can give people an edge. An employer with four equally-skilled candidates in front of them will most likely go for the one who can demonstrate industry knowledge and connections.
Phillip Jones, of the Two Degrees Group in Canberra and an ambassador for this month’s National Networking Day by the Australian Institute of Management, started to study networking when he moved from a government job into the private sector.
“I found it a bit of a challenge because normally in the public sector world you don’t think you need those skills,” he told Business Insider.
“I had to consciously develop those skills and I had to develop a systematic way of going about it.”
The word “networking” has some baggage. It can be seen as mercenary or about business cards being chucked at your face.
“What I like to propose to people is a much more holistic approach to business and professional relationships,” he says.
“It should be a day to day activity. Everyone’s networking without even realising. Every time you share information or give a recommendation, even if it’s a place to have a coffee, that’s a form of networking.”
Here are his five rules of networking:
Know what you want
The first step is to define the networking you want to do.
“Until you do that you are really spinning your wheels,” he says. “You won’t know which groups to go it, you won’t know if certain people are worth cultivating and you feel out of kilter in the room.”
Don’t even think of turning up for an event until you know what you want to get out of it, what you objective might be and what success means.
“It could be that you are there to learn, to get market intelligence, to keep an eye on the competition, to find a mentor or get new business,” he says.
“Unless you do that, you are going to struggle. It’s like going to a wedding and not knowing anyone.”
Do your homework, then meet people and make sure you follow up.
“You can go to an event and pass your business card around and hope for the best,” Jones says.
“If you’ve done your homework you know who you want to meet and what you want to achieve but if you don’t follow up nothing will happen.
“So the other key thing is to start cultivating that relationship. That’s where most people fall down. They go to a conference, for example, meet a whole bunch of people. Then they go back to work, three months pass and those contacts have gone cold.”
Be systematic. Make sure you follow up a new contact.
“If you don’t do that then you’ve wasted your time and money,” he says.
Know who you are and what you can offer
“You have to be very clear, explicit about who you are, what you represent and what value you can bring,” he says.
Have a story to tell.
“I found that when I was starting out I mingled with all these people and what you want to do is be a little bit more memorable,” Jones says.
“Having your narratives, about who you are and you expertise, is very important. In my mind it’s not the elevator pitch cliche, it’s more about your narrative, I call it.”
He recommends always having a few examples of the work you do.
“It’s a much more memorable way of what you and your company do,” he says. “It’s easy for you to remember and it’s much more passionate, authentic and genuine.
“When you meet people, there is a little bit of measuring going on. Who do you know? Who do you work for? It’s like a reference.”
Talk about yourself and what you are interested in. That’s compelling.
Understand that it’s a relationship
“Often networking is seen as the commoditisation of people, all business cards and referrals,” he says.
“You are building a relationship with another human being, they are not a commodity. We forget that these are real live people.
“It’s about relationships. That takes item and effort.”
Your online presence should match your real self
“You have to make sure that how you represent yourself online connects with the way you are in the real world,” Jones says. “There can’t have a disconnect between the two.”
On LinkedIn, he advises always writing a personal note when you connect with someone. Once they are connected they are connected for life.
“Make sure that your LinkedIn profile and your blog or website all align and support each other,” he says. “You can’t have a disconnected between what’s on LinkedIn and how you want to present yourself professionally in the real world.”
That’s a bit of housekeeping.