Networking is one of the most effective ways to find new career opportunities, whether you’re looking for a new role, returning to work after a career break, aiming for a promotion or looking to set up your own business.
Networking can help you find out about jobs before they’re widely advertised. Often jobs aren’t advertised at all and networking is an effective way of finding these ‘hidden’ opportunities. It will give you an edge in the recruitment process if you’re approaching a company via a referral or personal introduction, rather than ‘going in cold’.
What is networking?
It could be attending meetings at a professional institute, a conference, seminar or exhibition. It could be reaching out and connecting with previous colleagues, customers, competitors and suppliers.
Make networking a habit to build a rich and diverse resource you can call on when you need to.
10 tips for an effective networking strategy
1. Create a directory of your network
Think about the people you’ve worked with: previous managers, customers, suppliers, associates and other people that you know. Create a list and then rank your contacts by how valuable you think they’ll be to you, and how comfortable you feel approaching them. Try to think beyond your immediate circle of friends, family and colleagues. You can never predict who knows who, and who will be able to introduce you to someone who could move your career in a new direction.
When it comes to reaching out, start with the people you feel most comfortable getting in contact with but who may not be at the top of your ‘value to me’ list. This will help you get in the swing of networking and build your confidence. Plus, if things don’t go according to plan you haven’t wasted a higher value contact.
2. Plan ahead
Work out what you want to achieve from each conversation. Are you looking for more introductions? Can they advise you on your CV or introduce you to someone who’s hiring? Can they suggest any organisations that might be looking for new talent? Could they give you advice or information about a particular sector?
Knowing what you want from each of your contacts will make it easier to approach them confidently.
3. Get your elevator pitch right
When you’re networking, you’ll probably only have a short amount of time with each person. If you meet somebody at an event, you may only have a few minutes. So, it’s essential that you’re able to describe yourself succinctly and confidently. This is your ‘elevator pitch.’ It should only be 20-30 seconds.
Here’s an example:
'I help companies grow sales and profits'. This is much clearer than 'I am a business development manager' and immediately conveys the value you can add to a business.
This is one of the golden rules of networking. Many people will be open to sharing their ideas and occasionally their contacts with you, but you must be willing to offer your help and advice in return. If you aren’t willing to reciprocate you may find that people are less willing to help you.
Make a point of introducing people in your network who have shared interests. The more you are known as someone who knows interesting people, the more people will want to be linked to you, and the more effective your network becomes.
5. Use LinkedIn
Firstly, make sure your profile is up to date and complete. It’s also important that your LinkedIn profile matches your CV. Then you can begin connecting with relevant people, joining relevant groups and contributing to discussions about your chosen industry.
6. Attend events
CABA and the ICEAW run regular events for past and present ICAEW members and ACA students. This a great way to build confidence, make new connections and keep up to date with the latest developments in your industry. Take a look at what’s coming up or find more networking events in your local area.
7. Listen and build rapport
The most effective networkers are excellent listeners. Active or even empathic listening will help you build strong and more productive relationships. For starters, positive body language such as nodding, leaning in towards someone and maintaining eye contact signals that you’re paying close attention.
Improve your communication skills with these top tips.
8. Nurture your network
Like any relationship, your professional connections need to be maintained to remain effective. Set reminders to yourself to reach out every so often to help strengthen your ties. You don’t have to wait until formal networking events to make contact. A one to one meeting over coffee or lunch might give more room for a relationship to grow.
9. Network internally
Don’t stay stuck behind your desk, working away diligently but anonymously. Make a point of chatting to people internally – in the lift, at the water cooler – so that when your name comes up, you’ll always have an advocate.
10. Raise your profile
Blow your own trumpet, gently! Attend professional meetings, lectures and conferences, and get involved where you can. That way, people are more likely to think of you when an opportunity arises.
Nervous about networking? Work one to one with a professional career coach to craft a high-impact elevator pitch and improve your communication skills. Get in touch to find out more.