Colette Sexton, news correspondent at The Sunday Business Post, on how to make valuable contacts in your industry by networking.
It’s not what you know — it's who you know. It is a cliché. It is said too often. And, unfortunately, it is true. Every one of us can remember an opportunity that was within our grasp until the decision maker pulled it away and gave it to someone they had a personal connection with. Many of us would be lying if we said that once or twice we were in those shoes and opted for the person we knew because they have always been reliable, friendly or helpful. It is unfair but it is the way the world works and it is impossible to change that. But what you can do is change who you know.
Related: How to network when you're shy
Widening your circle of people in your professional life can have a very positive impact on the opportunities that come your way. I know networking is hard and it is much easier to slip off home after work than drag yourself to some event where you talk some more about work. But it is worth it. Here are some tips for effective networking:
Pick something to go to
This might seem very basic but promising yourself you’ll network more and actually doing it are worlds apart. Pick an appropriate event (if you have to pay for a ticket, even better — you are far more likely to actually go). Make sure it’s not on a day that you know will be really busy so you can’t talk yourself out of going.
If you go to an event by yourself, you'll be forced to talk to other people instead of chatting to whoever you came with. You’ll also find that people will approach you to initiate a conversation if you are alone more often than if you bring a buddy along. If no-one approaches you, be brave and start a conversation with someone. It can be as easy as asking if they have been to one of those events before, or complimenting their handbag.
Introduce yourself with context
When you meet someone, tell them your full name, where you work, and maybe throw in a line about why you’ve come along. This gives them a little context which can help the conversation flow easily. Make sure to bring along some business cards with you and have them to hand, instead of having to rummage in a bag for them. If you give a business card, people tend to give you one back and hey presto, you have their contact details.
Bring other people into the conversation
Great, you’ve gone to an event, said hello to someone, and now you are chatting. Keep an eye out for any other lone wolves that might need rescuing and try to bring them into your conversation. The networking gods will look kindly on you.
No events, no problem
If you work in an industry that doesn’t tend to have very many relevant events, you can still network. Pick people who have careers you would like to emulate, or work in companies you find interesting, email them and ask to meet for a coffee. Yes, it requires putting yourself out there but if you don’t ask, you don’t get.
Don’t get disheartened
You are not going to get offered a new job or win an amazing contract on the very first day you network or start relationship building. In fact, it might take years for it to pay off. Just have patience and the hard work will be worth it in the long run.