The power of networking

8 Apr 2015
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Talent will take you a long way, knowledge and hard work even further, but a good contacts book and a high profile will help you make the most of your potential.

Networking is regarded as one of the key skills for 21st century workers and the profileration of networking groups, together with the development of social media, offers a wealth of opportunities to expand our circle of contacts.

Many professionals first discover the power of networking as a result of an MBA. The opportunity to build relationships is one of the key benefits of a business school course and students often report that the alliances they made proved just as valuable, if not more so, than their formal learning.

For new graduates, making the right contacts can be critical to launch their career. Brant Lowe, UQ Business School Career Services Manager, says this is all the more important at a time when the global economy is under pressure.

How to be a good networker

  • At a networking event, try to relax and enjoy yourself – it is not a test or ordeal, but a great way to meet new people.
  • Remember others feel as nervous as you do. People will generally realise this and go out of their way to be welcoming.
  • Try to be interested rather than interesting. Be a good listener and encourage others to talk about themselves.
  • Take a long-term view and be open minded about what you get out of it – it may not result in career opportunities but you could gain ideas and inspiration.
  • Vary your networking events so you mix with a wide range of people – some from your own sector and some from different professions and walks of life.
  • Always follow up on opportunities.
  • Keep your online profile up-to-date. While social media will never replace face to face contact, it’s a good way for recruiters or other contacts to find you and check out your skills and experience.

“In an era where competition for jobs is fierce, and employers are more cautious with their hiring decisions, strong professional networks become even more critical,” he says. “The successful networker is assertive in marketing their professional brand, and is creative in finding opportunities to connect with decision makers, where others often overlook.”

Even for those further up the ladder, networking can be an important source of new business leads and new career opportunities. However if swapping business cards all sounds rather shallow and contrived, then consider the other benefits that networking can bring.

Making new contacts can help you benchmark yourself against others and develop your knowledge. Peers can be a good source of advice and support. Importantly, networking will help you extend your sphere of influence – important if you are championing a cause.

In his best-selling book, The Tipping Point, the US economist Malcolm Gladwell recognises the disproportionate impact that successful networkers can have. He describes how ‘Connectors’ - people who know large numbers of people and make introductions between people in different circles – are instrumental in bringing about sociological change or influencing trends.

Meanwhile science writer Steven Johnson believes networking can stimulate the innovation process. Research has found that good ideas often start out as a hunch in someone’s mind. When two people with a hunch come together to share ideas, it can lead to a breakthrough.

Johnson says: “You have to figure out a way to create systems that allow those hunches to come together. That’s why for instance the coffee house in the age of enlightenment or the Parisian salons of modernism were such engines of creativity because they created a space where ideas could mingle and swap and create new forms.”

In London where ideas generated in the 17th century coffee houses, led to the creation of the stock exchange, UK author Julia Hobsbawm, also described as the Queen of networking, is another who recognises its importance. Tired of hearing networking dismissed as ‘schmoozing’ she is arguing for a more intelligent approach to networking and a return to the coffee house culture. ‘It’s not about hustling or a dating exercise,” she says. “It’s actually about curiosity, the exchange of knowledge. It’s about lateral thinking in a lateral age.”

Contact the Careers and Recruitment Centre for any advice or help