Networking: It’s not what you know but who you know
Have you ever heard that old saying, it’s not what you know but who you know? There's a lot of truth in that old saying. Have you ever tried pulling off a major collaboration when you’re the new girl? Believe me it’s tough! Sometimes you need to know that Lorna is the lady to speak to if you need a last-minute room change.
But how exactly do you find out that Lorna is the go to lady for rooms, or that Sharon knows everyone in catering, or that Denise is owed a favour by the porters? The answer is networking, and when done right it will ensure you know who to speak to about what, which is a godsend when working in a large organisation.
Networking can conjure up images of people milling around rooms with name badges stuck to their chest while trying to force conversations with people they have nothing in common with. But networking doesn’t have to be like that, and nor should it. It can be much more natural, below are some of my top tips.
When I relocated to Bristol, I found attending internal training courses one of the easiest ways of getting to know people. Of course, I had a lot of training to do, being the new girl. But while learning the ropes I also got to meet a lot of people, and learn more about their roles and departments.
I began to get to know my own Lornas and Sharons, and if they weren’t the people to speak to, they knew who was. This proved very useful as it helped me to understand the organisation, what other teams were out there, and what they did. I also used my new contacts as a gateway to learn more, through shadowing them and their teams.
I still find training invaluable for those networking opportunities. It’s quite handy being stuck in a room all day with a variety of people, meaning sometimes I get to put a face to the name of someone I email all the time. Or sometimes I get to pick someone’s brain on something over coffee when their diary is full for the next few weeks.
I find it helpful to make use of social media to strengthen those connections – and I’m talking more about LinkedIn and Twitter than I am Facebook. I think it’s perfectly acceptable for you to send someone a request if you’ve been chatting with them during coffee breaks on your recent course. Or if you regularly have meetings with them.
This can be a great way of highlighting your skills or interests. And it’s also a great opportunity to get to know about their skills or interests too. You might discover you’re both hooked on the latest binge worthy Netflix offering, or a new novel, which could be a great way to start a conversation next time you spot them queuing for a coffee.
It’s also a great way to ensure you’re remembered, and can continue the conversations outside of training or meetings. It can open up the opportunity to talk to them one on one, which might be quite rare if you only ever see them in meetings and they’re often rushing straight to the next one.
Grab a coffee
Now this one might be a little harder, particularly if you err more on the side of introversion. But more often that not it’s worth it, and it’s the next logical step after meeting someone and connecting online. If you’re already exchanging ideas, or chatting about something, how about you suggest you meet for coffee and discuss it further?
Let’s be honest, sometimes our words or meaning can be misconstrued when emailing. And yet its easy to forget there are other ways to communicate! If you’re not feeling brave enough to invite them for coffee, try picking up the phone instead and continuing your conversation that way. Our inboxes are clogged up enough as it is!
At my work we have a “Random Coffee Scheme” which isn’t as cringey as it sounds! It’s a way of pairing up staff and giving them time to network. Networking is important, but in busy periods it’s always the first thing to go. This scheme offers permission for it to continue, to share ideas, and find out about colleagues as individuals.
Some larger organisations have staff networks. Sometimes these networks have specific entry criteria, for instance I coordinate our Women’s Forum. Sometimes they are open to all. They are a great way of meeting more people that you wouldn’t normally have the chance to.
In summary, networking should be natural. It absolutely doesn’t mean you have to spend your evenings at networking events for professionals – unless that’s your thing. Networking is about getting to know your colleagues, both in terms of what they do, but also as human beings. You won’t like everyone you meet, and you probably won’t want to see them all outside of work.
That said, I have met some of work besties this way – and I wouldn’t have, had I not been brave enough to ask them for a coffee. But even if you don’t make friends out of it, at least you’ll know who to call to next time you need that print order rushing!
Written by Aimee Atkinson. who can also be found as @AimeeLouTweets on Twitter.