Giles O’Halloran highlights some golden rules when it comes to networking…
I have spent years advising people from lots of different backgrounds on how to craft effective networks. This is not only through coaching or making introductions via my own network, but through helping people approach networking in a positive way to develop their own capability.
Networking often has a negative stigma attached – especially by those who are perhaps more introverted or uncomfortable engaging with others either online or in social settings. This is a natural and very human reaction, but others also think it can be demeaning or is the same as ‘sucking up.’
The truth of the matter is that we all have networks and we all use networks. Friends, family, professional contacts, colleagues are all part of networks that we tap into every day to get things done – whether helping others do so or helping ourselves.
Professional networks are simply an extension of these and they can help you get recommended, promoted, recognised etc. opening you up to opportunities, influence and knowledge you may never have had access to.
There is no doubt that there is an art to effective networking, but it can be adapted and attained by everyone – no matter what their belief or personality profile. I cannot cover the whole subject matter in one article, but here are a few golden rules I would consider.
It’s not what you know, and not just who you know, but who knows who
The old saying “it’s not what you know but who you know” is a well-worn cliché, but it actually has real value and has developed further with the advent of social technology. However, whether the person mentioning it are referring to the old school tie, the old boy’s network, it doesn’t matter – it is usually meant negatively. The fact is that in today’s society, in the work place and personally, we are realising that networks are what drive and influence our success.
We are naturally social creatures, we form communities, we congregate or share with others like us – this is our natural state of being. The work we do involves interacting with others who often do different things – this is why the term knowledge worker is now being changed to interaction worker.
However, the really powerful thing to consider is that social technologies on mobile platforms means that it is not just who we know, but the networks that those people have are also becoming more accessible to us. It is about the power of the second connection – the connection we share as a friend or contact with another, that is the real influence on allowing us to access a much wider audience of people that can help or influence what we do. This is where the real power, value and opportunity exists within the network.
Currency = Trust and Credibility
Networks are something you build and networking is when you develop or utilise that network. When doing so, you are relying on others to respond to you, help you or allow you to access their networks. Their contacts rely on two things before they respond to you or potentially help you – they need to trust you and you need to be credible. Both of these are provided through our network and connections – if they are confident to pass our details on, help us connect with others or even influence others on our behalf – that increases the level of trust and credibility in us and therefore becomes the currency of a network.
So think about that when you are crafting connections, you need to create that trust and credibility through your interactions.
Be Genuine – Keep it Real
If trust and credibility are the currency of a network, being genuine maintains the value of that currency. If you are not genuine, use people and never give back to your network, you will be found out very quickly. This will cut you off and in the modern “World of Mouth,” that can be personally and professionally very damaging. People want and need to be able to trust you and to know that you will help them and the network as a whole - otherwise the network just doesn’t work.
So you need to make sure that every interaction you have – whether negative or positive – is professional and genuine. Through doing so, people are more likely to respect and trust in you as a valuable member of a network, and whatever the outcome, your image or profile will be protected.
Connect and never collect
Whether you network online or offline in the real world, you should never simply collect contacts and consider it a way of valuing your network. I meet so many people who have a large book of business cards or lots of so-called connections via social networking tools, and they think that is how you value a network. It is a very simplistic and inaccurate thing to do.
The real value in a network is how you share and interact with that network to help the wider network. The more you and others do this, the greater of the value created and inherent within that network. This is why I teach people to connect with others, share and try to build a relationship. So much more can happen, and often opportunities you never even considered emerge through doing so.
Make the relationship real
Once you have established a relationship with those in your network, you need to keep it warm. There are lots of ways to do this, but the best way is to develop it professionally and in person. This could be over a coffee, a beer, a glass of wine or at a venue/event. Meeting people and staying in touch physically is far more memorable and therefore influential. This means they are more likely to remember you, help you or recommend you to others if you are that genuine, credible and trustworthy professional I mentioned above.
Taking a little time to do this creates a much stronger network that will benefit all stakeholders.
Give before you take
We often develop networks to help us achieve personal goals. This a natural thing to do but it should not be the be all and end all. The best way to network and show you are genuine is to offer to help others so that they in turn will help you. This way of working is called social indebtedness – sounds rather ominous but in fact it is a positive. The simple truth is that you add value to others and your network when you help them. As a result, most people are grateful and willing to return a favour either then or at some point in the future.
This approach to your network will enhance your value, influence, credibility and respect. You will be regarded as truly genuine and not just someone after satisfying their own needs. It is therefore simply good karma and will help you achieve your goals.
Communicate with Connections
Once you have established your connections, you might meet them and then what? You need to keep the communication channels alive and open. By this, I do not mean you simply send them emails on a daily or fixed basis, but it does mean you drop them a line and maintain the connection. This could be through sharing news, perhaps a white paper or research with a professional contact, or job opportunities with people you know are looking. Investing a little time to keep your network flowing means you keep it alive and responsive.
Networks can be global, but culture is local
Networks and networking can be found in every culture across the many continents of the world. It is not a new concept and we have been doing it for centuries. However, modern mobile and social technologies mean that we can, create, craft and keep in touch with global networks at anytime and anywhere. This is all good stuff, but even though people may have connections across the world, you need to be mindful of local cultures and how they operate.
There are differing customs, practices and protocols that really do matter – and if you get it wrong, you might offend and burn any bridges you or even your contacts may have tried to build for you. That also means you could impact the credibility and trust of others, therefore reducing your status and value in the network as a whole.
So take time to consider who you are connecting and communicating with. Be mindful of customs and traditions that still abide in some cultures, such as the near and far east. You should also consider the language you use – collaboration maybe a word and concept the US love, but it still has negative connotations in France and Holland over 70 years on.
Taking a step back and considering how best to behave means you will be valued, respected and accepted as a genuine member of the network.
I genuinely hope the advice above is of help to you and how you might network going forward. These are just a few of the rules I teach people and try to help them understand when crafting and connecting with networks. Whether after reading you are positive or negative in your opinion of networking, please remember that everyone you are connected with as a person is part of a network of many networks.
Understanding networks and investing in a network helps you develop, enrich and create opportunities both professionally and personally.
About The Author
Giles is an experienced HR and Recruitment professional who works as a freelance consultant, strategist, writer and coach. He started his HR career with IBM after first reading Modern Languages at Warwick University and becoming a successful technology recruiter He has since worked in other senior HR roles across Europe, advised at Board level, and implemented both strategic and operational HR business solutions. He also spent 12 years as a reservist with the UK's Reserve Forces, serving first with the TA and later with the RAuxAF.
Giles is a columnist with a leading, MoD sponsored, international career transition publication, and has also written blogs for a number of websites and organisations on employment and the changing nature of work. He is passionate about technology, the value of networks and the future of work.
Giles focuses on career transition support for individuals (CVs/Resumes, LinkedIn, Interviews, Networking etc.), and effective people solutions for organisations (HR strategy, Talent, HR Technology, Digital HR, HR Mentoring/Business Partnering and Outplacement services) and has worked across a wider variety of diverse sectors.