If you are one of those people who have resolved to step up their networking skills in 2017 and forge meaningful relationships within and outside their organizations for the betterment of their careers, this article is for you.
And if you have not made that resolution, the question is what are you waiting for? As long as you are a career-minded or business-minded person, or even a job-seeker, you need to know how to seek the right connections and keep them alive through continuous networking.
First, let’s clarify what is meant by ‘Networking’ and ‘Connections’ in this article, so we are all on the same page on what exactly is being discussed here.
According to Merriam Webster Dictionary, Networking is the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions; specifically: the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business. The other definition is the establishment or use of a computer network, but of course we all know we are not talking about that.
Connections, also according to the same source, is a political, social, professional, or commercial relationship.
From these definitions it is clear how important these two things are to our survival as human beings whether as career people, business people or just basically a man or woman seeking to inter-relate with others. Networking and connections are the lifeblood of a healthy society, hence there is no debate about how important they are. What most people want to know is how to network effectively and make quality connections that are beneficial to all parties involved. This is the question this article seeks to address.
Networking effectively goes beyond our spontaneous every-day relations. It is the conscious effort to identify the sort of people we need for the advancement of our careers or personal endeavours, connect with them for mutually beneficial relationships, and keep the relationship alive by continuously connecting and re-connecting. Yes, networking goes beyond making pointless small talk, but hey, it is not meant to be boring or something we turn into a task. It should be fun and exciting but directed at yielding meaningful results
So how do you network effectively and forge quality connections, especially in a country like Nigeria, and enjoy every minute of it? Here are some tips:
1. Know and Identify: This can be simply expanded to know your career/business objectives and identify those that can help you achieve them. These people could be colleagues (senior or at the same hierarchy) or mentors at work or online. It is however advisable to pick people that are already operating at the level you are aspiring for, and even more importantly, surround yourself with people who are smarter than you.
2. Meet and Mingle: One of the ways of meeting the right people to network with is simply by mingling a lot. Get yourself out there. There are a variety of places at which one can get to meet people and hence find like-minded individuals to associate with; from social clubs/societies (Rotary, Lions etc), to worship places, to cinemas, to restaurants, to conferences and events, and even parties (yes owambes are a great place to network). The list is endless. It is up to you to figure out the sort of places the people you want to mingle with will most likely be found at and frequent those places a lot.
3. Social Networking Does Magic: While it can be a monster that consumes all your time and leaves you with low productivity if badly or over used, social media is a gem for meeting new people. What’s more, you can easily do background checks on people you are interested in relating with and filter down to the quality ones without investing a lot of time in first getting to know them like you would with physical connections. On Sprocial.com, you are able to meet lots of professionals and filter job roles/career types to find the sort of people you want to mingle with. LinkedIn and Google Plus are also great places to meet professionals online. Twitter is well suited to enable you meet key opinion formers in your line of interest and connect with them.
4. Give and Take: Like the popular saying goes, “Life is all about give and take”. When building relationships, you must always be aware of the fact that it has to be a mutually beneficial relationship for it to last. No one wants to be used and people quickly get tired of a relationship they are getting nothing out of, even Mentors. So, always have something to bring to the table when connecting with others.
Pro Tip: Give before you ask for anything. By giving, we aren’t talking about gifts or money, of course. Giving what you would like to get in return is one of the most effective ways of getting someone to want to connect and relate with you. Examples; sharing information you have on a topic you know interests the other person, volunteering to help out with something the other person needs done, teaching them a skill or technique they need. An example is a situation in which a student was able to form a bond with a Professor by showing him how to use Google Maps. He soon became the Professor’s go-to-person whenever he needed something that had to do with technology. Hence, he was able to access the Professor’s wealth of knowledge in his field of study.
Think of networking as an emotional bank account—you have to make deposits and amass capital before you can make a withdrawal.
5. Be Intriguing: So you have identified that wonderful person you want to connect with, you have met them and started a conversation with them, you know what you stand to gain from a relationship with them and also that you have quite a few things to offer them. Now you have to ensure you hold their attention long enough for the relationship to actually form and not bore them off in the first five minutes of meeting you. You have to be intriguing; interesting. Be different from the norm, say and do things that will make them want to know more about you. But of course do not say untrue things just to grab their attention; you have to be unauthentic otherwise you will just come across as a fraud.
6. Variety is the Spice of Networking: While it is important to know your bull’s eye target of the sort of people you want to network with, you need to be careful not to fall into the trap of limiting yourself to only a certain type of people while doing so. For instance, a doctor with aspirations of owning his own hospital will be doing himself a great disservice if he narrows the people he needs to mingle with to only medical professionals. He needs to also network with successful entrepreneurs in other fields in other to pick up entrepreneurial skills or gain information from them (an agricultural entrepreneur might be able to provide him with information on how to secure the funding that will help him on his way). While filtering to ensure you network with the right quality of people, you have to remember to broaden your scope.
7. Birds of the Same Feather…: Like the saying goes, people with similar attributes get along easily. In order to break down the defenses of those you are interested in connecting with, you need to identify common grounds. Find out something they like to do that you enjoy as well and play this up. For instance, you meet a Mr. Bode who is a Bank Manager and you, as a budding Financial Analyst, would like him to be your Mentor. You notice he has an Arsenal Football Club sticker on his car and you happen to support the same club. There, you have your ice-breaker, you can start up conversations around this common interest.
8. Be Honest and Trustworthy: This can never be over-emphasized. No matter how intriguing and interesting you are and how easily you are able to make connections with people, you immediately lose them once they find out you are dishonest or someone they cannot trust. It is important to act with integrity always. People find those with integrity quite dependable and are able to open up to them without inhibitions, a very important quality if you want to build genuine and long-lasting connections.
9. Nurture and Maintain: Now you have created meaning relationships with worthy connections both online and offline. The work is still not done. You have to ensure you keep the relationship alive and vibrant through continuous re-connection, sharing and communication. Relationships are like plants, they need to be watered regularly or they start to rot.
While doing these things, keep in mind that networking is about being genuine, authentic, open, and helpful. With these qualities, you will find yourself building a strong forte of quality relationships with people that contribute meaningful to your personal and career growth.