Networking is evolving beyond windowless conference rooms filled with awkward silences and lacklustre finger buffets.
Awkward. That’s the word that springs to mind when thinking about traditional networking events. The term itself, “networking event”, tends to conjure up images of awkward interactions. A room full of people wearing poorly-placed name tags (there’s always one person who has the shame of a handwritten badge), desperately trying to make a great first impression, while hoping no-one has noticed that this is their third trip to the wine table in less than an hour.
Whether you love it or loathe it, networking is a necessity, and the importance of having professional contacts in a connected sector cannot be underestimated. Leveraging the relationships you have, both professionally and personally, can improve business alliances, increase sales and create job opportunities, where they may not have existed previously.
Thankfully, networking is evolving beyond windowless conference rooms filled with awkward silences and lacklustre finger buffets – cheese and pineapple on a cocktail stick anyone? It’s not 1992, guys. Today, networking can be done in a variety of ways, and we’ve outlined four strategies you can use to expand your professional circle, without ever having to wear an adhesive sticker again.
Whether it’s your comrades in CrossFit, your fellow pedal pushers in a spin class or the people you share a nod and smile with on the gym floor, the place where you work out can sometimes provide a better environment to make connections than the place where you work.
So, yes, you may be more focused on obtaining your PB (personal best) rather than working on a BP (business plan), but that’s not to say you can’t mix a little business with leisure.
Whether it’s grabbing a smoothie after a workout or chatting to your spotter about challenges you face outside of the gym, you can use this outlet to establish beneficial relationships that may end up becoming precious over time.
Not only is volunteering good for the soul, and the community, it can also help you to fill gaps on your CV, learn new skills and, keeping on topic, meet new and engaging people. Volunteering gives you the opportunity to practice and develop your social skills, by regularly meeting with individuals who share common interests.
Your professional development can benefit from volunteering in many ways, not only through the connections that you make. Through volunteering, you can expose yourself to a variety of different professional organisations or internships that could be advantageous to your career or business.
Volunteering also offers you the opportunity to try out a new career without having to make a long-term commitment. It’s a great way to gain experience in a new field, and many companies look favourably upon candidates who do pro bono work in their spare time.
Yes, everyone knows that LinkedIn the social networking sites for professionals. But have you actually used it to actively network? The business-to-business platform has groups covering everything; from HR to startups to writing for business – the list goes on. Becoming an active member of these groups is a great way to expand your network and open conversation with like-minded individuals.
Reaching out to people for advice is another great feature associated with networks like LinkedIn. While in the real world, you might be hesitant to cold call someone you admire or respect from afar to ask for advice, it’s perfectly acceptable to reach out via LinkedIn and “connect” with that person. Top tip: When connecting with a stranger, delete the auto-generated “I’d like to add you to my network” message and take some time to explain why you would like to make the connection. The chance of someone, not only accepting your invitation but replying to your message, increases significantly if you add a personal note.
Hobbies and interests
Hobbies are a great way of connecting with people who share similar interests. Running clubs, sailing, knitting circles – if you have a hobby, there’s a group to cater to it.
Meetup is the world’s largest network of local groups, bringing people with mutual interests together for the purpose of socialising, creating a sense of community or networking. Dublin, for example, has its own section on the networking site. There are groups covering a range of varying interests, anything from ‘Dublin Runners’ to ‘Public Speaking for Beginners’ and ‘Entrepreneurs Anonymous’ to ‘Dublin Language Exchange’, with each of them have a specially carved out area on the site.
People from a variety of backgrounds regularly get together to host events or informal gatherings. Not only is it a great way to expand your social circle, as well as your professional network, it can also help you to learn new skills while dipping your toe into something you may not have experienced before. You can check out the Dublin page here.
Remember, networking opportunities are not restricted to formal settings. They can also be uncovered through conversation and personal interaction. A robust network can keep you informed about the job market informally even when you are not seeking work. The old saying, “It’s not what you know, but who you know” has a ring of truth to it for a reason.
The more people can connect to you on a personal level, the more inclined they will be to see you as a good fit for their organisation or to think of you the next time they hear of an exciting business opportunity. Don’t be afraid to branch out and expand your professional circle through unconventional means – you could be one squat session away from your dream role or next client win.
Article by Niamh Linehan. Images from Shutterstock.