Networking is NOT a Bad Word (Part I)
Say it with me, people, “Networking is not a bad word”. I recall taking my first role inside our corporate office after being a field sales representative for 7 years...
My manager encouraged me to network so I could continue to build my brand and find future opportunities. I looked at him blankly and said, “I don’t know how to do that. Leaders won’t want to talk to me. What do I even talk to them about?” The thought of networking petrified me, and I felt that I would be bothering my leaders by asking for their time. I am glad he helped me overcome my fear and, in the end, I became great at networking. As I now coach other women, I often see the same blank stare or fear of putting themselves out there. When I probe a bit more, I think some women find networking to be a bit disingenuous. We feel that our work should speak for itself. I wholly empathize with this sentiment and previously held similar beliefs; however, as the old saying goes, “it’s not only what you know; it’s who you know”. Let’s break this down a bit more.
It's my job, not anyone else's, to make myself visible as authentically and genuinely as I can.
If you work in a large multinational corporation, or really any company, there are lots of people who want to be promoted or who have future ambitions. Imagine being a leader looking for someone with a specific skillset for a role - it can be like looking for a needle in a haystack. As humans, we are very much drawn to connections and people that we are familiar with. Think about buying a home or leasing a car. Wouldn’t you rather choose a car dealership or real estate agent based on a referral rather than just read a website with claims that haven’t been validated? Now, put yourself in the shoes of a leader. Their top priority is finding good talent. Every choice they make on talent, costs them time, money, and potentially, credibility. Thus, I don’t blame leaders for choosing from a known pool of talent. Rather than let that upset or discourage me, I use that piece of knowledge to my advantage. I know that I am a talented person, but it’s my job (my job, not anyone else’s) to make myself visible as authentically and genuinely as I can. In fact, I strongly believe that when you network, you do the organization and your leaders a great service by making your potential and your contributions known.
Now, I realize that the thought of networking may make you shiver in your Louboutin's, but you can totally do this! In this post, I will share 3 ways to network. To ease you into it, these tips should be fairly simple to implement. (Keep an eye out for part 2 of this series for some pro tips!) Before we dive in, I want to point out that I did these things from a genuine place of wanting to help my organization. In hindsight, my networking efforts had an added bonus of helping me build a strong brand that oftentimes led to future job opportunities. If these things don’t feel genuine to you, don’t do them. Hopefully, they’ll at least inspire you to think about ways that are more suited to you. Do what works for you!
Share Your Learnings
I sincerely want to help others and I know how much I benefit when others help me.
An organic way to make your contributions visible is by sharing your best practices and learnings with your team. When I was a sales representative, I made it a point to document any key insights on how to sell or trouble shoot a product, especially when we had a new launch. When something is new, people will be eager to learn from your best practices and even your missteps. Oftentimes, I found that my insights were greatly appreciated, and ended up being forwarded several times throughout the country. This led to many opportunities to work with marketing, and eventually led me to a promotion. I have continued this practice because I sincerely want to help others and I know how much I benefit when others help me. In my current role, for example, I conducted a training series on digital marketing. Since this kind of training does not exist in some parts of the organization, I took the time to share it with a few teams. They were grateful, and it gave me even more positive standing with some of my counterparts. Using this approach, you can highlight your contributions to a broader audience, which strengthens your personal brand.
Be Nice to the New People
...it helped me to stick out in her mind as a creative and dedicated person.
I hate being the new person. I especially hate that awkward feeling when no one talks to you and you don’t have any history about the team or company. For that reason, I am very mindful of new people joining my organization. I always send them a welcome email and offer to go for lunch (or a Zoom call for pandemic times). 100% of the time they will accept the offer. It’s a generous and kind thing to make them feel welcomed and help them have a soft landing. Once, when a new marketing director started, I was responsible for training her, but I knew that she was extremely busy. I found out that she had a business trip coming up, so I made her a learning binder with a fun cover to inspire her to study. She loved it! And double bonus, it helped me to stick out in her mind as a creative and dedicated person. (P.S. She later hired me for a role.) Don’t discount how much knowledge you can offer. At the very least, you can make their introduction to the company a more pleasant one. These kind gestures leave lasting impressions on people.
Keep in Touch with Former Managers
It’s great to have a network of people you’ve established great rapport with, but additionally you will have made them aware of the new skills or competencies you have developed.
I always love hearing from colleagues that I formerly managed or mentored. I enjoy hearing how they are continuing to grow and make an impact on the company. Hence, I like to think that my former managers enjoy hearing from me. Sometimes I keep in touch more formally through quarterly connects and other times it’s more informal via my LinkedIn updates or a quick email. It’s great to have a network of people you’ve established great rapport with, but additionally you will have made them aware of the new skills or competencies you have developed.
These touchpoints can help with the ever-important “hallway conversations” happening right now in every organization. For most job openings, there is a short list of top candidates. Leading up to a job posting, numerous conversations are had as the hiring manager scouts out the best talent. The more people that can speak about your potential fit for a role, the more likely you are to be considered for new positions. Wouldn’t you love it if your old boss said, “Hey, hiring manager, you should consider [insert your name] for that role. Last we spoke, she mentioned she has experience in change management.” Now that’s a way to get your name added to a short list!
Go get 'em!
The world we operate in is increasingly competitive and challenging, and leaders want the best of the best on their teams!
There you have it - Three ways to ease into networking. Embrace the nerves, sister...you got this! If you are working at an organization with a healthy culture of promoting good talent, I can guarantee that your leaders want to hear from you. The world we operate in is increasingly competitive and challenging, and leaders want the best of the best on their teams. Remember: there is nothing wrong with helping to make your contributions more visible!
Rooting for you!
PS Comment below which one you’ll try or let me know if you have another preferred way of networking. Look out for part 2 of this series, where I share pro networking tips. I know you’ll be up for the challenge!