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Is networking the key to your next career move?

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Do you have a network? How valuable is it? Do you know how to make the most of it? ‘Networking’ has become a ubiquitous term for business people getting out and about to meet other business people. But, in fact, your network is about far more than that. It’s about building a group of contacts who understand what you do, know your strengths and may be able to help you progress.

 

Why is a network important?

Many people working in corporate life don’t make the time to build a network. And yet career progression often comes from a contact or a suggestion from someone you know. Your networking can be both internal and external – getting to know the other people in your business, as well as clients, suppliers, other companies in your market and other professionals in your area of expertise.

If you want your career to move forward, either in your current organisation or somewhere new, your network matters. And networking isn’t just about your next job. It’s also about learning new things, finding new opportunities and getting new perspectives. In fact, I believe that networking can bring you a range of benefits, including:

Keeping up to date with your profession – if you work in finance, legal services, HR, marketing or any other ‘profession’, it pays to network with other people working in your area. You can share your knowledge, learn from others, get new ideas and keep abreast of current trends and opinions.

Keep up to date with your sector – similarly, networking with other people from your sector can be incredibly useful. It helps you to understand any changes or issues in your sector; it gives you the opportunity to learn from your competitors and it connects you with people in other businesses who may value your skills and experience.

Business development – it’s a common misconception that networking is only about business development. That’s not true, although it’s certainly a good way of getting your company’s name out there. But this is not about being ‘salesy’ – that’s usually a complete turn-off for other people in the room. It’s about building genuine and long-lasting relationships with potential customers.

Future career opportunities – while you might not be networking directly for a new job opportunity, it’s often where those openings come up. Building your network both inside your current organisation and across wider communities means that people get to know you, your skills, your ambitions and your approach. This means you are more likely to be in their minds when they are thinking about filling – or even creating – a new role.

 

For example, Steve is a client of mine. He had decided it was time for him to change roles and as part of exploring his options, he talked to a long-term contact who was part of his network. They said they needed someone like Steve in their consultancy, and created an entire new role for him. Without his network, Steve wouldn’t have found a role that fit him so well, and his new company may have never thought about creating that particular job.

Conversely, another contact of mine had always had good roles in banking, and had often moved jobs with their bosses. This meant that they had never needed to build a separate network. When the time came that moving was no longer an option, they simply had to leave the job. “I won’t make the mistake again of not keeping in touch with people and having a valuable professional network,’ they told me.

 

I hate networking!

I hear this a lot. And it’s not surprising. When you start networking, you are going into a room of strangers and feel like you need to promote yourself. It’s easy to feel that people are not going to be interested in what you have to say.

There are ways to make networking an easier option for you. Once you get into the habit, and you start to regularly network in the same places, you will build relationships, make long-lasting friendships and boost your career ambitions.

I talk about all of these elements in Chapter 8 of my book, Getting on: Making work work. Along with valuable practical resources, the book is designed to help you see where there may be gaps in your career approach – including building your network – and shows you how to find and keep the career you want.

Good networking is about having a strategy and plan. Decide what type of people you want to meet – remembering that everyone in the room has their own network that might be useful to you. Look for the best places or groups to go to, and don’t be worried about asking your colleagues about where they go, or what they’d recommend. If you’re worried about making a start, why not choose a smaller group, or an event that’s more focused on a speaker than on working the room – and just have open conversations. The more you do it, the more comfortable you will get.

Are you ready to progress your career? Networking is just part of putting yourself in a great position to take the next step.

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Buy Joanna's book, packed full of practical guidance. Download Resource 11 here to help you work on a networking strategy & plan.