Careers

3 pain-free ways to build your networks

Jun 03, 2019
Networking is a discomforting prospect for many, but don’t wait until it’s too late to start.
 
Experts tell us that strong professional networks are essential to career development. Knowing the key players in your sector and being seen at professional events gives you a competitive edge in today’s fast-paced recruitment market. But there is no denying that for some of us, networking isn’t at the top of our must-do lists. It is awkward, draining and time-consuming. Making small-talk with strangers doesn’t come easy to everyone.

Yet, research tells us that the most connected people are also the most successful. Being connected means investing in relationships. When we are happy at work, we tend to disconnect from wider networks. We invest in the relationships that are closest to us. We reconnect to these wider networks when we are thinking of advancing in our career. This is one of the reasons why networking is a discomforting prospect.

Networking tends to be something we associate with our time out of the office and with job hunting.

Networking when we need something plays tricks with our mind. We are at a psychological disadvantage when we network – we tell ourselves that our colleague’s time is more valuable than ours; we need them more than they need us. There may be some truth in that if we only network when we need a new job or some new connections. So, the best way to think about networking, or the best time to network, is when we don’t need to do it.

Cultivating relationships

At its simplest, networking is about developing relationships – building, fostering and developing a professional group of colleagues. The important aspect of networking is the fostering and developing piece. If we forget to do this when we are in employment, it becomes even more difficult to reconnect when we want to change career.
Individuals cultivate relationships throughout their careers and investing in your professional network when times are good provides benefits when you need them in the future. So, how can you extend and develop your network?

Welcome new hires

Welcoming new co-workers is the easiest networking task. You have a wealth of information about how your organisation works. Offer some recommendations for local coffee shops and lunch spots. Offer to take your new colleague to lunch in their first week and ask about their experience. It doesn’t need to be more than this. You have met a new colleague and you may have lots in common or very little. If nothing else, you have practised the art of having conversations with strangers.

Use LinkedIn 

Almost everyone has a LinkedIn page, but most people don’t use it strategically. Update your profile and make it authentic, relevant and compelling. Assume that people will check you out on LinkedIn before talking to you in person. Make direct connections to people with whom you want to network and don’t forget to personalise the invitation. Ask your contacts for personal introductions to their contacts that are relevant to your search.

Do lunch

Yes, I know you eat lunch every day but how many of those days are you eating alone or with the same friends? Make an effort (say, twice a month for starters) to invite somebody you don’t know very well to join you for a sandwich and a chat. Or, if there is a common lunch area in your workplace, join a conversation and practice your small talk.

Networking doesn’t have to evoke fears of warm wine and excruciating conversation, but it does need to be practised and finessed. Professional networks are an important feature of career development. The best way to build and develop them is to make them an ordinary aspect of your professional life, most particularly when you don’t need them. The first step may be as simple as sharing a sandwich with a co-worker.
 
Dr Annette Clancy is Assistant Professor at UCD School of Art, History and Cultural Policy. Annette’s research focuses on emotions in organisations.