The experts explain how to find the people who will help lift you up...
Networking both on- and offline is still the most effective way to increase your social capital and progress your career in a digital age. Optimise opportunities with a sisterhood of like-minded industry insiders and you’ll be powered for collaboration and professional success.
Whether that’s securing yourself a mentor (which can be useful at any stage of your career) or simply working a room at a social event, it can be empowering to put yourself out there and make valuable connections, both outside and within your industry.
“Networking shouldn't be any more than building your own support system,” suggests Isabel Sachs, founder of I LIKE NETWORKING. “There are so many moments when we turn to it: career advice, finding jobs and leads, learning new skills, sharing solutions for common problems. It’s like having your work team - but you get to choose all your colleagues.”
“Building a strong network means you have the potential to be exposed to different insights into different fields, information on what potential employers look for and advice on how you can improve professionally,” says Liz Stone, co-founder and CMO at Ok Mentor.
But oozing enough confidence to approach a group of strangers in a room or by virtual means doesn’t come easily to all. With that in mind, we asked the networking experts for their top tips on how to enhance your skills...
Top networking tips to help boost your career opportunities:
Don’t be put off IRL events by nerves
It’s natural not to feel comfortable at professional events - especially if you don’t know anyone. But don’t let that stop you from signing up for them. “Remember that everyone is there for the same reason as you, and most likely the majority of guests are feeling exactly the same as you,” urges Stef Stanley, co-founder and CEO of Ok Mentor. Her advice for calming those nerves? “My trick is to always approach those who are also alone, as they are more likely to be receptive."
Shout about your successes
“Consistently showcasing the work you do and talking about thought leadership online (like LinkedIn) and in-person (at networking events) is important. It means you stay top of mind for those in your network that could potentially give you a job,” advises Ok Mentor’s Liz.
Prepare for events properly
What was it your school teachers always used to say? To fail to prepare is to prepare to fail? Well, maybe they had a point. “Make sure you have a couple of conversation starters and opening lines you are comfortable with,” suggests Stef. “If you are planning on networking with speakers, research their background and have a few unique talking points to discuss with them - they will usually allow for guests to approach speakers after their talk so be ready to jump in line fast,” she adds.
It’s also worthwhile to prep a personal pitch, advises Emma-Louise Boynton, co-founder of Her Hustle. “I juggle so many different projects and work hats, and thus have tripped myself up previously by sounding unclear when introducing myself to new people at an event. I’ve now got into the habit of writing down a few lines regarding what I’m working on and how that speaks to my broader career mission, and then tailoring it with a few event-specific details depending on what it is I’m at that evening.”
Approach potential mentors carefully
Mentoring is a time commitment, and while many people will be happy to share their valuable time to help lift up others, you should expect to have to do a bit of leg work first. “Rather than approaching someone out of the blue and asking that they be your mentor, reach out instead asking for a specific piece of advice that you feel they are expertly positioned to give you and suggest a Zoom call or coffee to discuss it if they have the time,” suggests Emma-Louise.
The whole 'building up' thing benefits you, too. “Mentorship is about building a personal relationship, so it’s important to get to know someone first and ascertain for both of you whether it’s a good fit,” says Emma-Louise. “If they like you and the conversation is a productive one, they’ll be more inclined to agree to see you again,” she says, adding: “I think the best kind of mentoring is less formal than asking someone straight up to your mentor.”
If you get knocked back, don’t be disheartened, adds Ok Mentor’s Stef. “Sometimes it is a numbers game. Outline a few different people who could be great mentors but not people who seem too unrealistic to hear back from,” she says.
Remember to give and take
“A network is a two-way relationship,” reminds Isabel from I LIKE NETWORKING. “Think about how you can add value to it and it should feel effortless.”
Ok Mentor’s Liz agrees. Met someone you want to stay in touch with? Nurture the relationship, she suggests. “Make a mental note of the things they talk about when you meet with them. Then send them industry news or something you know is important to them,” says Liz. “Always stay in contact with them through LinkedIn by liking and commenting on their content or tagging them in a post you shared that would be of interest to them,” she adds. “Invite them to events or for the occasional coffee, and always try connect them with other people in your industry to show you have their interests at heart.”
Cut through the noise on social media
Social media can facilitate bombardment for popular, knowledgeable people - so if you're contacting one, make sure your messages stand out. “You can leverage social channels to build your network, but make sure your approach is unique, and valuable,” says Stef Stanley. “Keep in mind they probably get a lot of messages so yours has to be brief, make them feel good, and bring some value to them. A good approach is to share an example of how something they spoke about / taught has had an impact in your life, and share a concrete example. Everyone loves to know they were a positive influence in someone’s life.”
Get comfortable with compliments
“Everyone is nervous at networking events,” points out Her Hustle’s Emma-Louise. If you want to approach a stranger at one but you’re not sure how, she advices going back to basics: start with a compliment! “Then you’ve opened up the conversation by making the other person feel good about themselves, so you’re already off to a great start,” she explains.
Set challenges for yourself at networking events
Following on from that theme, Emma-Louise Boynton sets herself specific challenges. “Whatever I go to, I always set myself the goal of having a proper conversation with at least two new people. Then I don’t let myself leave until I’ve done that.”
Follow up, fast
If there’s someone you’re keen to stay in touch with, well then… do! “Send a quick message to say how much you enjoyed meeting them,” says Liz Stone. “Provide value if you can, like sending them an article about something you spoke about or links to your work or website.” As for timing? The sooner the better, thinks Her Hustle’s Emma-Louise. “I am an eager follow-upper. Strike while the iron is hot, I think. I will literally message someone on my way home if we’ve met in a more personal/ casual sense. If it was a more professional encounter with someone a lot more senior then I’ll email them the following morning.”
Now go get networking... and good luck!
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Cat is a Senior Editor at Marie Claire, covering news and features across the brand's key purpose pillars, including women's issues, politics, career, mental health, female empowerment and equality, as well as books.