The art of networking

Posted October 13, 2011, by Helen Isbister

Australians are good at lots of things. We are world class when it comes to relaxed attitudes, VB drinking and swanning around the beach at Christmas time. But networking is a lost art on Aussie shores.

The problem is that lots of Australians associate networking with selling. And down under, selling is a dirty word. Think of it like this: networking is about building business relationships that are beneficial for both parties. It may sound like a PR spiel, but being able to make the most of your contacts will save you time, money and energy. And you’ll be helping others too – so learn to love it.

But while we are told to network, network and network, how is it actually done? Read on so you can perfect the art of making contacts, cultivating networks and making the most of them.

Ready-made network

The good news is that finding the majority of your 'contacts' is easy – they are right under your nose! Friends and family, current work colleagues, former colleagues, former classmates and teachers are all part of a ready-made network. Give them a call to find out what they are doing and make the time to catch up.

Spreading your wings

While your ready-made network is a very good foundation, you will need to think outside the square and network outside your comfort zone if you want to kick your career into a higher gear. Valuable contacts can potentially be found anywhere – cocktail parties, weddings, airplane trips, supermarket lines, pub toilets, sporting events and the theatre. Pursue activities which you will not only enjoy but will be likely to meet people at, and most importantly make sure you are a signed-up member of any industry groups.

Making contact

If you are attending a work function, split up from your work colleagues so you can meet new people, but choose your targets wisely and use some common sense. Don't break up the party when two people are in a deep, and obviously private, conversation. Always have business cards handy so the meet and greets can be followed up on. Always make contacts with the best intentions without only thinking about what they will be able to do for you. Don't pressure people into relationships, ask personal questions, stand too close, take without giving something in return or tell lies.

Online networking

It hasn't taken long for the Internet to revolutionise the way we do business, so don't discount it as a valuable networking tool. MySpace, Facebook and LinkedIn are all good for maintaining both social and professional networks. They have functions for job hunting, uploading applications and getting in touch with people who can help get you on the track to a brilliant career.

Maintain your network

Once you have grown your list of contacts, you will have to cultivate them. Don't store piles of business cards only to have on standby in case you need to call around for a new job. It will reek of desperation and ulterior motives. Stay in touch with people you like and respect even if they can't help you immediately. Keep the members of your network up to date with available positions within your company. It will be your chance to both maintain contact and show you are looking out for them. But don't just keep it strictly to business – going out for lunch, coffee or drinks is a good way to catch up socially and keep the flame alive.

So you have a phobia of small talk?

Mindless chitchat not your thing? Don't like sticking around long enough for the ice to be broken? Shy people naturally find it harder to schmooze but that doesn't mean they can't build a solid network. The number one rule in networking is to be yourself. It will be apparent a mile off if someone is artificial. So if you're introverted, don't try transform into an extrovert for the purposes of building a network. Smile and be genuine and you will attract a solid group of contacts regardless.

Utilising your network

After putting a significant amount of time and energy into building a network, make sure you leverage it when you need to. If you need some help in a job hunt then scout around and see if anything is going in the companies of your contacts. Don't apologise for asking for help – it will make you seem unprofessional – but make sure it's a two-way street. Start returning favours, lunch, tickets, advice, or assistance, and referrals for those who already did something for you. Networking is essentially about sharing and returning favours.

Helen Isbister

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