Three Networking Hacks that Help Future Proof your Career
Confession time! I hate networking events. As an ambivert (mixed extrovert/introvert) there are times when I imagine I’d rather have root canal surgery than go to a networking function! (And no I never ever exaggerate).Yet when I get there I’m usually absolutely fine and sometimes the life of the party.
While the experts are out as to whether or not networking helps women in the same ways at it helps men, I personally can attest to the value of it on my career with two amazing opportunities presented to me by way of introductions at functions:
A chance conversation at an industry conference dinner helped me transition interstate
I landed another Step Up type role in another organisation because of an introduction at an industry Awards lunch
Why did it help me? In one I was a relative unknown in industry and the conference introduced me to the right people at the right time. At the second opportunity it was a mix of right people, right time and right key messages. If I hadn’t been there asking smart questions I would never have known about either opportunity or had an opportunity to put my best foot forward in a casual business environment.
This last month in our Young Executive Mastermind Groups, we used the Visibility Strategy quadrant model and created a series of practical ideas to help attendees future proof their future career prospects. Remember, the top right hand quadrant of the model is where you want to be. You want STAR Status (obviously) and in order to do that you need to act strategically but also ensure you are visible with the following criteria – right audience, right key messages, right places and right time.
The problem with being a collaborative problem solver for women and career
When you are a collaborative problem solver, you run the risk of being head down, bottom up, out of line of sight in the leadership talent pipeline. This is a far bigger problem for women than men because we’ve been socialised to believe that in order to get ahead we need to do great work and the work itself will speak to our success. Unfortunately this isn’t true for most, so when we’ve got a personal brand as The FIXER it’s as though we have the cloak of invisibility on.
Not only does the business not want to disturb us while we go about solving those enormous business problems (governance, compliance, transformational change or reputational risk) but while we’re doing that, someone who is more ambitious and more visible will simply overtake and or bypass us.
It’s therefore really important that you start strategically building out a plan that includes networking – with the right audience, in the right places, at the right time and ….. oh yes, BYO right key messages – even while you solve those big problems within the business.
Three tactics to Help you gain visibility while strategically tackling your networking
Yes, you do need to network. I know, you hate it, but networking does help. And with a plan, you can make this far more fun and even turn it into a bit of a challenge. So here are just three tips that you can do to shift from The FIXER Mode (strategic but low visibility) to The STAR (high visibility PLUS strategic) within a few months.
1. Strategically plan the events that you go to at the beginning of the year – and be sure to include mixed gender networking events
The most successful men and women I know plan their event schedule 12 months in advance. Really? Yes really. It’s smart, it’s less reactive, you’re committed and it’s easy. Most of us would prefer being at the dentist than attending a networking event. So by creating a plan of one strategic event per month, you are playing ‘above the line’. Below the line = excuses, blame, resentment, avoidance and not accepting responsibility for your own part in the process . Above the line = accepting responsibility and creating your own career success and reality – Step Up, Speak Out and Take Charge.
Most peak bodies and industry groups get their calendars done in the latter part of the year. If you work for a larger corporate your own organisation will also have events where it is wise to be seen at. Review the events schedule and make a plan in advance and book them in well ahead of time. Of course ad-hoc events will come up, and you will always have a choice.
If you do work for a large corporate it can be tempting to only network within your organisation. While loyalty is admired by some, the smarter play might be to also network externally. Once again, get out of your comfort zone and put external networking in your plan as well.
Remember the criteria of “right audience”? You need to be seen and heard by the decision makers and leaders of your industry and/or business. Rule of thumb: Until such time as we have more than 19% women in senior leadership roles, mixed gender networking events are going to be better for career progression and being noticed by right people in positions of power. Here’s a great article on Forbes about why women’s events fail and a really interesting Harvard Business Review article on Assessing the Value of your Network. However, in the initial stages of your career women’s only events can be great for confidence building and meeting like-minded professionals – so why not create a program that is a blend?
2. Prepare so you can ask a smart question from the back of the room during Q&A
Do your homework and prep it in advance. This is part of the Step Up, Speak Out, Take Charge process – you need be prepared to step up, to develop a voice that can be heard and is valued – so do prepare and rehearse ,as silly as that may sound.
One of the smartest women I know does this on a regular basis. She has a PhD, yet is naturally a little shy – but always sounds extremely confident when asking questions from the floor. I puzzled over this for months, then asked her the secret, and was surprised how easy it was. Preparation. She always prepares a question or two at home. The preparation not only helps her to sound confident and as though she knows what she is talking about (by the way, she really does), but it also gets her thinking analytically about the content of what might be in the presentation well in advance, which helps her with more ad-hoc responses as well.
3. Send a thank you note afterwards
This is god-dammed brilliant and I learned from the best of the best when I was going to a lot of USA conferences and having US delegates returning the visit in Australia. In the USA when you meet someone at a business networking event you nearly always get an email follow up to thank you the next day.
WOW! The first time it happened I was blown away because this is extremely uncommon in Australia. But it really made such a difference to my perception of the people I met, thatI’ve definitely gone out of my way to create time for people who followed up on networking post the event.
In fact, this is so uncommon in Australia that I recommend ensuring that you keep a light touch – so you don’t come across too creepy. Say thanks, acknowledge something about the other person and suggest that if they need anything they can drop you a line. Then a few weeks later follow up with a phone or coffee meeting request. Avoid too intense, the too soon sales pitch or coming across as needy. Instead focus on how you can help them, mutual interests in the future and keeping conversations open down the track.
Go forth and network with confidence and strategy
So there you go – three great tips for attending networking seminars and events that will ensure you stay visible and strategic. It’s definitely all in the preparation. You don’t want to be known as The PLAYER – that person who turns up to the opening of an envelope, but no-one knows what you stand for. Or you run the risk of being bypassed if you stay as The FIXER.
You do however, want to be known as a serious contender for future opportunities. These three tactics ensure you are visible, your thought leadership is beginning to show, your interest in career development and advancement is far more obvious, and your willingness to do something about it yourself, is crystal clear.
Step up, speak out and take charge! It’s that easy.
Vive la révolution!
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