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Networking for Professional Success

Just before Christmas I went along to Hemsley Fraser’s PM Conference day – there were about five sessions throughout the day (I wrote about the session on Agile just before Christmas). There was that dreaded after lunch slot where everyone normally falls into a slump, but they managed to avoid it with a lively session about networking.

There were eight parts to it – eight things we can be doing to help network better – and when we network better it helps our career in so many different ways.

Here are the eight things to be aware of and try out:

1. It starts with understanding yourself

I totally agree with this starting point – it something we always say at Arras when it comes to creating a CV or knowing which project management jobs are the right ones for you. Without understanding what you’re about – and what interests and motivates you, it makes it difficult in networking situations to feel comfortable chatting with others.

In the session the presenter talked about starting at the stage, “how would you like to be described by others”. It’s one of those NLP things about putting yourself in someone elses shoes and trying to see you as they do.

He also got us drawing a shield – our personal shield which might include a motto, pictures or words that represent us – our likes, what we’re passionate about, our values.

From that we got talking about values – which is only a short hop to thinking about our behaviours. For example, I’ve always like the saying, “treat people as you would like to be treated yourself”.

This is definitely one of my values – and it got me thinking about what I actually do – what behaviours do I display – what would people actually see me doing.

It’s a good way to have a bit of self-reflection time doing something like this – and I think it’s good prep for thinking about networking. After all, networking is about finding out about others  – but it’s also about letting people know what you’re about too.

2. Actually networking

elevator-pitchThe elevator pitch is one of the most frequently heard things about networking – we’ve written about it a bit too – in this session we talked about the outcomes to your job being the things that make up your elevator pitch. There were some questions to ask yourself:

  1. What do my clients need? (this works well for internal focused project management too)
  2. Hoe does my company meet their clients needs?
  3. In what way do I give my organisation / clients great value?
  4. What practical benefits do I / my organisation give clients?
  5. What makes my service unique?

In some ways the elevator pitch is about giving just enough information to be interesting without giving it all away – that’s because you want to generate a conversation. Being suitably vague – even intriguing – will invite questions.

3. Help Others

This is all about reciprocity – help others and in turn, at some point, they will be there to help you out. Of course it doesn’t always work out like that but that’s no reason not to help others out where you can – regardless of getting something in return – better to give than receive?

We’ve talked about reciprocity before – when talking about internal networking – this is not just about doing something for someone you’ve met at an external event – it also applies internally in your organisation.

4. Targeting

This is about not mixing your reasons for networking – or what you’re trying to get out of the networking you’re doing. Personally I disagree with this – networking for me is about meeting others, finding out what other people are up to, finding if there are any mutual interests and keeping an open mind.

I don’t have a target – that all sounds so contrived to me. I’ve always believed that you never know where a conversation will lead you – what path it will go down. If I have a target I would be far more likely to move on from a conversation after a few minutes if it’s not going down a path to my target purpose. I find that people need time to warm up in a conversation and personally I really dislike it when I meet a “professional networker” who clearly has an objective and a target reason for being there – quickly moving on when you’re no longer perceived to be a useful person to them. It’s just rude isn’t it?

 

Project Manager's Conference

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5. Following Up

Of course Linkedin is useful for keeping in touch with people you’ve met along the way – and the record part is useful for recording the date and where you met the person. Other than that, it’s now up to you how you take further action. Sometimes it’s nothing – but I find that if you regularly update Linkedin yourself with status updates and posts, people who you have met along the way are more likely to comment and get in touch again when you’re talking about something which is in their circle of interest.

6. Stay Positive

This is an interesting one – staying positive about networking. I find that people who get despondent about networking are generally doing it because they need something here and now. It could be something like looking for a job. The need is pretty much immediate and perhaps they’ve not been doing anything like networking for the last few years whilst they were tucked up in their job.

Now they want something – now they’ve got to do some networking – and it’s not working. People are not coming back to them when they ping off a few messages on Linkedin – or they met someone at an event that said they could put a word in for them at their organisation – but they’re not answering emails. You can see how quickly positivity about networking drains away.

You have to network all the time – everyday – internally and externally. In other words, just make connections with people, help them out, find out what you’re mutually interested in, talk to them – naturally without a real target or purpose in mind. That to me is networking – it’s business related relationships you’re building which may or may not be useful in other ways further down the line of maintaining a relationship with someone.

7. Social Media

In the modern social media-aware world we live in, it's important to remember that what you have intended to be taken as a joke or light-hearted sarcasm on Twitter or Facebook may not be interpreted as such, and your words could have consequences beyond what you initially intended.

No disrespect to the presenter but you could tell he preferred the face-to-face networking – and I bet he’s very good at it too – because there was nothing much to add in the area of social media other than professionals tend to use Linkedin and Twitter but not Facebook – and that there are thousands of project people on each of those platforms.

There wasn’t much on what exactly people are doing on Linkedin and Twitter that constitutes networking. Personally I use Twitter for picking up on news from people who I follow – sometimes I’ve met these people and then followed them afterwards – sometimes I just follow people because they seem to know what they’re talking about and share interesting stuff. I guess the same goes for Linkedin.

Where Twitter can work for networking is striking up a conversation – messenging each other in short form – and then taking it offline via email or actually meeting up in person.

I’ve met some great people this way – people I would never have met without this type of media.

8. There are opportunties everywhere

And that is absolutely right. You never really know where networking (building up a business relationship with someone) will lead you. Which is why I don’t agree with targeting (number four above) in the strongest sense because it can shut down potential opportunities because you were in “what’s in it for me” mode.

Some of the opportunities I’ve personally had over the last few years through networking has been writing a book; writing articles for other organisations, being a guest speaker in a foreign land, managing the social media for a project management expo and creating PMO Flashmob. Not bad when all I wanted to do was learn from other people and post a few articles from this blog.

 

Hemsley Fraser have a new Spring Project Manager’s Conference scheduled – another five sessions for people wanting to explore and learn popular project management topics, take a look

 

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About Lindsay Scott

Lindsay Scott
Director of Arras People, the programme and project management recruitment specialists. You can find out more about Arras People and follow me on Twitter and Google I also write the careers column for PMI's Network magazine and other project management organisations too. Recently created the first PMO Conference and currently running the PMO Flashmob

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