Meeting and greeting, boozing and schmoozing, connecting or professional networking is intrinsic to the business of building a circle of contacts, or climbing the corporate ladder.
Doing it well can pay handsome dividends – research suggests that up to 80 per cent of jobs are not advertised formally but go to individuals whose reputation precedes them, or who have an ‘in’ with someone who counts.
Conversely, poor networking can be counterproductive and see you marked as someone others would prefer to avoid, rather than assist, in your professional endeavours.
So how can you know what goes and what’s on the nose when you’re getting out there to expand your network, either online or in real life?
Since today is National Networking Day, we asked some veteran networkers to share their tips on what not do if you want to get ahead.
1. G’day chequebook
Hello, have I got a deal for you. High tech entrepreneur and Shark Tank star Steve Baxter cops this approach on a regular basis but says it doesn’t bode well for a fruitful ongoing association.
“One sure way to have a negative networking experience is to try to sell … something during the initial intro,” Baxter says.
“It happens surprisingly often… The worst are the people who do not research you or even bother to ask your background or what you invest in. I had one person who said that I would not [understand] his ‘Silicon Valley’ company as I am ‘just a Shark Tank person’ – that was a sporty conversation.”
Stash the sales spiel and focus on understanding the person you’re connecting with, Baxter suggests.
2. Hello, umm…
LinkedIn is the platform of choice for most professionals looking to expand their circle online. It can be a great way of doing so providing you don’t forget your manners and act like you’re on a mission to notch up your numbers, Future Directors Institute CEO Paul Smith says.
“There is nothing worse than receiving an impersonal connection request on LinkedIn, especially if you’ve never met or spoken to the person,” Smith says.
“If you are going to attempt a connection with a stranger for whatever reason you’d be better served by typing a short but personal note as to why you want to connect. You might share values, you might be considering some sort of partnership. It’s not about who can accumulate the most connections.”
3. Why are we here?
Can a networking event be a powerful way of driving opportunities and making new connections? Rhetorical question – but only if you know exactly what you hope to get out of the experience, according to Professor Jana Matthews, director of the UniSA Centre for Business Growth. Folk floating around handing out business cards, for no particular purpose, are an all-too-common sight.
“I try to think through what outcome I’d like from a networking event before I go there,” Matthews says. “I try to be clear whether I am looking for a new job opportunity, a mentor, an introduction to an investor, or a potential client. When you network with ‘the end in mind’ you’ll get much more out of your business interactions.”
Best to be clear about your agenda when you’re meeting and greeting, Matthews believes. “After introducing yourself, I’d suggest adding a sentence, for example: ‘I recently moved here and am looking for an interesting marketing position’,” she says.
4. Cuts both ways
Sure there are things you’d like to get out of the relationship but don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s all about you. Individuals who take before they give can find themselves out in the cold, according to software executive Brett Adam, the managing director for Zendesk Australia and New Zealand.
“Asking for favours or endorsements without adding your own value will quickly see new contacts walk away,” Adam says. “Make sure you can offer something in return…and whenever someone does make a further networking introduction for you, remember to say thank you!”
5. “Look at moy, look at moy!”
Networking events can be like speed dating – so many possibilities, so little time – but making the person you’re chatting with feel you’re just marking time until someone more eligible happens along won’t endear you, Matthews points out.
“I was once talking with someone who was constantly looking over my shoulder to see if there was someone more important to talk to,” she says. “That left a bad taste in my mouth and resulted in an unsuccessful networking experience for us both.”
6. Remember me?
You’ve connected and clicked? Then get back in touch, right away, while your chat is still fresh in their mind, says Olivia Ruello, CEO of women’s networking group Business Chicks Australia.
“One of the biggest mistakes I see people making is not following up with the person they’ve spoken to,” Ruello says. “A well networked person will always build on the relationship by asking for a person’s details or business card and following up with an email or phone call the next day.”