Many professionals don’t like to network and readily admit to avoiding it…
This is despite the fact that networking is recognised as a foundational skill for career success. There are many misconceptions about networking that hold them back. Liz De Wet, Leadership development expert and convenor of the Executive Women in Leadership programme at the UCT Graduate School of Business, shares some tips on how to network like a pro to boost your career.
Like attracts like
There are many misperceptions about networking – including that it is too self -promotional. There is also research to suggest that the reality of being outnumbered by men in some business and industry environments really does makes it difficult for women to network because of the principle social science principle of “like attracts like”. It takes longer for women to find common ground, which means that cultivating these relationships may feel less spontaneous and more like hard work.
Networking is about connecting to and with others in a mutually generous and helpful manner. Many women feel uncomfortable in a scenario that looks like they are selling themselves, or engaging in superficial conversation for selfish reasons, but networking can be a generative, collegial, reciprocal and generous part of our work.
Here’s advice on how to network successfully:
1. See it as work
Networking is often seen as something that has to be done over and above work. Think about networking as being part of the job and allocate time for it. Delegate work you don’t need to do yourself and rather make time to genuinely connect with a colleague.
2. Make it about what you enjoy
Every time you visit a different branch of your organisation or a new location for work, take the time to get to know the people there. Meet as many people as possible and find genuine points of reference to have a real conversation about – something that you genuinely enjoy or are interested in. A conversation about music for instance or travelling to a jazz concert brings a level of humanity to a conversation during which meaningful and memorable contact can be made.
3. Don’t rely too much on social media
Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are good for establishing contact, but for building quality relationships you ideally need face-to-face time.
Think about a current WhatsApp group you are on, if someone were to ask for a favour, how inclined would you be to help? Depends on how close the relationship is, right? Go out and meet people, make as many friends in your industry as possible. Don’t shy away from going to events, conferences, drinks and dinners. See it as an opportunity to build your network. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
4. Learn to recognise networking opportunities
Networking does not happen only at conferences or functions. It can be a conversation in an elevator or taking a break with co-workers. Often an informal gathering, like a lunch with colleagues, can be a space where work issues are brought up. It can also be a good place to get to know your co-workers better, develop your communication skills and see people in a more meaningful light.