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ImageIf you see networking as something you simply can’t do, career coach Jane Adshead-Grant's tips will help you transform the way you make contacts and move ahead in your career.

Many of us assume networking is an activity we engage in only when we seek a new job. It is important at this time; however we encourage you to network throughout your career on an ongoing basis. In this article, we share our thoughts on networking, its importance and benefits, and some tips to get you started.

What is Networking?

Many believe it is asking others to help you find a new role. Networking, quite simply, is an exchange of information between two people. Networking is mutually beneficial for those involved. The key is to have a clear intention for the purpose of your networking conversation.

For example, it may be that you are seeking information about a new job opportunity you are interested in and therefore you will network with someone who can provide this information. At the same time, as we have described, you will also offer information to this person.

Why is Networking Important?

Research* has shown how women who have developed strong networks experience greater success. They achieve this through developing relationships both across and outside their organisation.

What are the Benefits of Networking?

Having a strong network can more effectively facilitate:

  • Moving roles internally
  • Finding a new role externally
  • Gaining new opportunities for personal development
  • Attaining flexible working arrangements
  • Support with childcare challenges
  • Acquiring information to help our decision making
  • Offering insights from experience and knowledge of others
What are the Techniques for Networking?

The first is to correct any thinking errors that we may not be very good at it. Remember, networking is an exchange of information, it is a conversation. Below are some tips to get you started:

  • Be clear on your intention or outcome for the networking conversation
  • Articulate what it is you want from the conversation
  • Share your purpose for the networking conversation
  • Offer what you think may be a useful exchange, or if you don’t know, ask
  • If appropriate, share how you think you could add value to the person with whom you are networking

As you begin to develop your network, consider who is in your network already; colleagues, boss, individuals with in the senior team, previous boss, friends, family, community network.

Research* has shown how women who have developed strong networks experience greater success. They achieve this through developing relationships both across and outside their organisation.

When you are clear on what you want from a networking conversation, consider who might be the best person to assist you with what you want. It may be that the person you engage with initially recommends that you speak with someone else. This automatically adds to your network.

Therefore, as you begin the process, start with no more than two or three contacts. These contacts may refer you to others and very quickly your network increases. It is important to maintain your network. This does not have to be an arduous process, it is suggested that you make contact two or three times a year, updating your specific network contacts on where you are and what you are doing now.

A case study: Network that supported new Childcare Arrangements

Susan worked 4 days a week. She needed to revisit her childcare options as her eldest child would soon be starting school.

Through Susan’s external network, she began to gain information and experiences from others about various alternative childcare options. One conversation led Susan to making contact with one of the nursery nannies who was on maternity leave to enquire whether she would be interested in working for 4 days a week, looking after Susan’s two girls. The nursery nanny accepted the job which was mutually beneficial as Susan was happy for the nanny to bring her 6 month old baby whilst taking care of her two elder daughters.

A case study: Network that supported Flexible Working Arrangements

Beverly wanted to return to work with flexible working arrangements, a 4 day week with one day working from home. During her maternity leave Beverly had submitted a strong business case as to how this could work.

Unfortunately her manager, who felt under-resourced and stretched, turned down her request. Beverly however had developed a strong internal network within the organisation and got in touch with one of her network contacts. She asked for their help in obtaining the flexible working arrangements. This contact was a senior manager and, with his influence, was able to support her in her request which was later accepted.

The line manager apologised for overlooking her request and recognised that he had not given it sufficient attention due to the pressure he was experiencing. This case study illustrates the benefit of having a strong networking internally and how capitalising on the seniority of a contact can be beneficial.

Reference: Research conducted by Boris Groysberg, Assistant professor at Harvard Business School, Boston, HBR Article: How star women build portable skills, February 2008

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