CONNECTION AND RECIPROCATION: HOW TO GO ABOUT NETWORKING

For executives, networking is the best way to get noticed and land your next role. To go about networking the right way, invest time and energy, listen to others and perhaps most importantly reciprocate the help they give you. It’s a strategy that will pay dividends as you move through your career.

So, how do you find out about that crucial opportunity that might be the all-important step in your executive career?

Executive roles are few and far between. And, even when they do come up, they are rarely advertised through obvious channels.

Often-cited research says around 70% of roles aren’t advertised, but in our experience as recruiters, that’s far higher at the executive level where there just aren’t as many opportunities.

So, how do you find out about that crucial opportunity that might be the all-important step in your executive career?

The answer, of course, through your network. Not just people you know, but those who have formed deep and lasting connections with you. Many of the candidates we place in executive roles come through other contacts or recommendations from within our own network.

Your network are people who have formed a proper connection with you – they know how you engage, how you communicate and of course, how you deliver. If you build and maintain these genuine networks over the course of your career, then they will become your champions, sharing their views on you with others and putting you forward for higher-level opportunities.

How you go about networking is important. It should be an ongoing endeavour which takes time, not just an annual event. It involves you being genuine, listening and offering others help, and reciprocating the help that they give you.

MAKING IT GENUINE

We’ve all likely been involved in a networking encounter (or many) that has felt one-sided, or opportunistic. That person who arrives, throws their business cards around and leaves. The person who talks about themselves for half an hour solid without asking you a single question. The person who seems to be listening, but really is looking around the room to see who else is there.

Or the old classic – someone who connects with you on LinkedIn and sends you a long salesy message two minutes later.

Of course, these people will not be who anyone recommends when a contact asks us for help in filling an executive position.

So, how do you make networking genuine?

Well, first it’s about accepting that networking is a time-consuming process. You need to put the effort in and there’s no getting around that. The benefits come in proportion to the time you invest.

Also, you need to be yourself when you network – let the real you shine through. That way, people can appreciate the connection they are making is genuine. This is something we talk about extensively in our career coaching at Hunton Executive – building your presence and personal brand.

Finally, you need to reciprocate and offer help.

THE IMPORTANCE OF RECIPROCATING

Networking is a mutually beneficial exercise. You need to reciprocate the recommendations, referrals and advice that people offer to you.

The first step is to start a conversation in a meaningful way. For example, in her book, The Lost Art of Connecting: The Gather, Ask, Do …, author Susan McPherson suggests starting each networking interaction with a question – how can I help?

Once you’ve initiated a conversation, actively listen so you understand who someone is and what they’re offering. It’s about them, not you, so try to avoid anticipatory listening – in other words, only listening to someone so you can have your turn to talk. If you’re interacting on social media, remember not to be that annoying person who messages the other straight after connecting. Take some time to comment on and share their insightful posts first.

Think about your superpowers and what it is that you can offer another person. When offering help, it’s important to follow through. Never say you’ll do something and not do it. Or, if for some reason you cannot follow through – for example, your contact you promised to introduce someone to has left an organisation – then at least let the person know what has happened so they’re not left hanging.

The more help you give others, the more it will be returned to you as jobs, leads, referrals, ideas, perspective, and friends.

NETWORK OFTEN, NOT ONCE A YEAR

It’s not just about showing up at an annual event or calling around a few old contacts when you’re in the market for a new job. It’s about maintenance of a genuine relationship.

Invest time in networking. Make time for it to happen.

Of course, the pandemic has thrown a spanner in the works of our normal face-to-face networking events. And, with many places back in yet more lockdowns, it may seem an impossible task at the moment. However, if you’re serious about your executive career, then you should see it not only as something you can overcome but use to your advantage. For example, look at the opportunity to connect beyond your immediate geographical area using video conferencing, or being able to fit more meetings into your schedule because you don’t have to account for travel time.

CREATING A NETWORKING PLAN

Once you’ve decided to try to network in a manner that forms deeper connections, put together a plan for how you intend to go about it. Here’s how to make a plan for networking:

Step 1: Create a list of peers, ex-colleagues, and customers that you know well.

This list should span a variety of people, across different industries and levels of seniority. Everyone is a potential connection, and can teach you something, from the receptionist at your old job through to the CEO of the company you’d like to work for.

Remember to be intentional at this stage, thinking about who you need to meet and how they can help you achieve your goals.

Step 2: Put thought into how you will present yourself as you network. Learn what your capabilities are and be able to articulate them. What are your superpowers and what can you offer up to others?

Step 3: Make a plan to meet or talk with them regularly throughout the year. Nurture those relationships by offers of help, advice and genuine connection. Reciprocate any help that is given back to you.

Step 4: Build a calendar for your networking, capturing industry-specific events, leadership seminars, and networking events. With the pandemic ongoing, there are a lot of online ones to choose from as well.

Networking is a career-long endeavour and one that if done right will reap valuable and lasting connections. Invest time and energy in genuine connection and offers of help and make sure you reciprocate. Neglect networking or take a shallow approach and all you’ll get is missed opportunities.

Hunton Executive can help you leverage your network to uncover the career defining job opportunities that will accelerate your career.

Are you serious about moving forward in your executive career? Our executive career coaching puts you on a strong path towards your goals. Contact us for more information.

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