Networking. You either love it or loathe it. Actually, that’s not true. I don’t know anyone who loves it!
But when it comes to career transitions, reaching out to others will be one of the first actions that comes to mind. Over the years I’ve noticed the trend; “Ryan, have you got some time for a coffee?” I did the same thing myself when I got serious about leaving my last employer and started Bright People.
I can say with absolute confidence that reaching out to others within your network should be one of your first steps. No matter whether you’re changing jobs by choice or not, the likelihood that your next opportunity will come via your network is huge. Various studies suggest that anywhere from 70-85% of jobs are found through networking.
The same can be said when starting your own business and finding your first clients. Every small business owner I know can talk about their fears when taking the leap to go it alone, but also the reassurance they gained from people within their network. And they can all point to early clients coming from within this network.
But I’ve also noticed another trend. An increasing number of people are neglecting their networks, letting their relationships go cold, and suddenly realising the problem this poses when they need it most.
Networking is about building and maintaining relationships. It’s the “building” part of the equation you’ll read most about. That awkward and daunting task of walking into a room of strangers. Sticking out your hand to introduce yourself. Making small talk. Asking for a business card. Worrying what they think of you. Yes, that’s pretty tough and advice abounds on how to do it better. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/networking-people-who-hate-adam-grant/
I want to talk about the “maintaining” part because I’m seeing too many people suffering the unintended consequences of letting their networks go cold. Here are the 3 reasons I think this happens.
1. “I’m too busy” – Relationships need tending, not necessarily time. It’s not all about carving hours out of your week to grab coffees. It’s about being aware of what people in your network are up to, caring about them, and taking a moment here and there to connect. Stop past their desk to find out how their week has been. Comment on their social media post thanking them for sharing something interesting. Send a note wishing them well in the lead-up to an important event. It is these moments of expressing care that nurture meaningful relationships.
2. “They’re too busy” – This is shorthand for “I don’t really like networking” because it’s an easy way to avoid making the effort to reach out. Acknowledgement is a basic human need in us all, and I know for sure that even when I am busy, it’s really nice to know that someone is thinking of me. In fact sometimes that’s exactly what I need when I’m busy! It lifts me out of my focus on tasks and reminds me that human connection is what really matters. So even if you don’t like networking and you think other people are too busy to hear from you, send a note, pop your head in their door and smile, walk up to them at an event and reach out your hand and say “It’s great to see you!”
3. “I’m too important” – I doubt anyone would admit to this one, but people who reach high rungs on any ladder are very susceptible to narrowing their relationship efforts towards other “important” people, and letting some parts of their network go cold. I saw this starkly in the case of a very senior figure in a large organisation who was acting in a role that he was convinced he would get. When he didn’t, he relates how humbling it was for him to reach out to old colleagues.
When you’ve maintained warm relationships, it’s easier to pick up the phone and ask for advice, guidance or support. Sure, we all fear the knock-back, but when someone we know and trust asks for help, it makes us feel good. So keep your network warm with lots of small moments of care, focus more on what you can give to others, and one day your energy will be rewarded.