It might be billed as one of the best ways to get ahead but in reality, relentless networkers end up making more enemies than friends.
Is there anything worse than that person who LOVES networking?
We’ve all met them. There you are standing at a conference minding your own business when they barrel in, reel off their resume, drop a few high powered names and thrust a business card (“it’s new, embossed, cost a fortune”) into your hand.
Then, while you’re still wincing from their handshake they’ve raced off to the next victim.
Far from wanting to do business with this person, you chuck their card in the nearest rubbish bin and dodge them for the rest of the day.
If you want to get ahead, don’t be this person. In fact, be the person that HATES networking but loves making connections. Real, reciprocal connections.
Right now, with many offices still closed and events cancelled, getting proactive about building connections in other ways has never been more important. Particularly in the spheres of sustainability and impact, where roles are highly dynamic and varied, and sit astride multiple sectors.
So how can you be sure you’re getting yourself out there a virtual post-Covid world, without rubbing people up the wrong way?
Start with these six rules.
1. Don’t forget your manners
It isn’t rocket science. You wouldn’t approach a stranger in the street and ask them if there are any jobs coming up at their company in the next few months, would you?
So don’t do it in a professional setting either. Including online.
LinkedIn can be a brilliant tool. Particularly given that the number of sustainability professionals on the platform grew 12% in the last year alone. But whatever you do DON’T send out hundreds of generic requests, DON’T ask a complete stranger out for coffee or lunch or to “pick their brains” and DON’T message your resume unless you’ve been asked.
DO send connection requests with a thoughtful note as to why you’d like the opportunity to interact. DO engage with someone by commenting intelligently on their posts. And DO keep an eye out for opportunities to take this conversation further.
2. Look the part
It might be tempting but if you wouldn’t show up to a face-to-face meeting in your PJs, unwashed hair sticking out at all angles, then don’t do it when you’ve got the chance to chat with colleagues, peers or other professionals online.
Dress professionally. Choose a quiet, private space. Look directly at the person you’re talking to (the camera) rather than a random spot on the screen. In short, give a person your full attention.
3. Fake it till you make it
We’ve all done it. Walked into a room full of (seemingly) confident strangers chatting away and hidden ourselves in the corner or – even worse – made an imaginary phone call.
Attending an online event can be just as intimidating but for different reasons. Often one person speaks at a time which can make it feel far more exposing to speak up. Any discomfort with the technology can add another layer of stress too. Long periods working remotely has apparently upped our sense of imposter syndrome too, according to Trello.
But remember, you’re just as capable as everyone else in the virtual room. And if you don’t believe that? Fake it. Help yourself out by preparing a brief intro, a few anecdotes and some talking points in advance. Familiarise yourself with other attendees and what they look like (if possible). And practise with the video conferencing software being used in advance to make sure you’re comfortable.
For more on getting over those nerves, take a look here.
4. Perfect your online chat
Virtual events don’t always come with the chance to talk to other attendees via video. But almost all come with an online text box adjacent to the presentation or webinar, and – used correctly – this can also be a great tool.
Typing your contributions can take a bit of extra care though. So be aware that nuance and tone can be lost, particularly when cracking jokes. Avoid emojis. Plan some relevant points you’d like to make in the discussion in advance and prioritize quality over quality. Note down the names of attendees that feel like a good fit and follow up with them one-on-one at a later date.
5. Make friends, not contacts
If there are two equally qualified candidates, who gets hired? Well, rightly or wrongly, it’s often the one a hirer likes. It’s just as true when it comes to giving someone a heads-up on an upcoming role, or advice on a resume.
Which is why, if you want connections to pay off, aim for friendship.
That doesn’t mean heading out with new contacts on a Friday night. It means looking for common interests outside work, sharing personal anecdotes (ex. how has lockdown affected you?) and keeping conversation light.
Done right, this will naturally lead to opportunities to comment thoughtfully and helpfully on subjects that showcase your expertise or experience. When that chance comes up listen carefully to what is being send and respond with relevant points and / or excellent questions.
6. Keep the conversation going
There’s nothing that makes an interaction feel more superficial than never hearing from a person again. Or – more likely – not hearing from them until they have a favour to ask you.
Don’t make that mistake. Keep up a rapport online – engage with their posts online or share a friendly email exchange to see how they are.
Then when you come knocking for a favour or a little feedback, they’ll feel like they’re just helping out a friend.