By Tish Magongwa, Nashua (Pty) Ltd Franchise Marketing Manager
In an age of professional social networks, it might seem as if the design of your CV and depth of your LinkedIn profile determines your ability to advance your career. In reality, networking is still an essential skill that should be fine-tuned and perfected. Here are some important insights into this often-overlooked business skill, and how to do it properly.
Network first, Facebook later
Decision makers still value human contact. Your digital profile is still considered a ‘cold call’ by the people who matter – they want to know who you really are, beyond a one-dimensional summary. Although it’s vital to play in the digital networking space, there’s no substitute for face-to-face interaction. The perfect LinkedIn profile means nothing if you can’t win people over in person, even though the end goal is ultimately the same: to promote yourself and connect with the right people.
Know your game
It’s pointless to attend an event and blindly try to make an impact on everyone in the room. You have to know your short and long terms goals, and align your networking strategy accordingly. Be strategic: before you attend an event, research who will be there and a little bit about them. Know who you want to chat to, and make it happen.
The most vital skill in networking successfully is listening. Never approach a group of people and start running your mouth off because you feel you need to assert yourself and promote your skill set.
Ask questions, listen and identify similar interests. Pick up on these interests and ask more questions about them. Be flexible – if they’re not responding to you, change your agenda. Endearing yourself to someone as a person first makes it much easier to approach them professionally later. Always remember to keep it strictly friendly and familiar, never flirtatious.
Understand it takes time
Would-be-go-getters are often awestruck by the raw talent of successful networkers – this is a misconception. No one is a born networker – it’s a learned skill. Some people might be more naturally confident, but that certainly doesn’t make them a good networker. It takes endless hours of practice to fine-tune and master a fruitful networking style. So practice as much as you can.
Attend events that push you out of your comfort zone and try to leave with at least a few contacts. You’ve got nothing to lose, so be bold. Like anything else in life, the more you practice, the easier it gets.
It may sound odd, but your networking skills spill over into your personal life too. Social occasions are equally important opportunities to network – but in this case, you’re looking to make friends, or just create a relaxed and comfortable environment.
The same goes for networking within your company. Just because you’ve landed the job you want, doesn’t mean you should stop networking – connect with people above and below you in the corporate structure. Offer support where and when you can, because one day you’ll probably need it in return.
Master the follow-up
You’ve spent a day connecting with the right people, swapped business cards – now what? Always think ahead and plan how you’re going to connect after the event. If possible, try and swap numbers and send a follow-up message the day after. Don’t be too aggressive and stalk them: asking for a coffee or lunch meeting to chat is okay, asking them to swing past your house for a glass of wine probably isn’t.
If you want to become a successful networker, remember you have to be self-motivated. The onus is on you to fine-tune your skills, because no-one is going to do it for you. It’s about being your own personal cheerleader, without anyone actually noticing. You’ll be surprised by how much it benefits other areas of your social life – and it might just land you the position you want.