There’s a saying a friend in need is a friend indeed. How do you build that friendship that a friend is there for you when you’re in need? That is your network and relationship building skills. No matter what organizations you’re working in, and where we are in our careers, the network is one of the most valuable assets you have collected over the years.
What are the key enablers to build a good professional network?
THE ART of NETWORKING tip #1: You’re building your network all the time. You find that a lot of the relationships you build throughout the course of your career become very handy and useful at a time when you never thought you’d need to know those people. It’s the small conversations the personal connections with different people you work with at your company as well as other companies.
THE ART of NETWORKING tip #2: The network you have built will pay off when you need them. At some point later in your career, people change positions you have a different need and opportunity to be in touch with those people and those relationships really pay off because it’s the kind of investment you made years in advance really pays off. In Chinese they say “Don’t make friends only when you need them. You got to make friends all the time. And eventually, when you need them, they’ll be there for you.” Over the course of a career, sometimes people find themselves out of work. Quite often the connections you made could lead to another job opportunity or another career position. You find that when you need a new job and when you’re looking for a new career position, you rely on the connections and networking you did many years ago you never thought you would need. Start build connections and prepare for that rainy day.
THE ART of NETWORKING tip #3: Turn your camera on in virtual meetings. During this pandemic, lots of us are working from home. This time we have lots of challenges to network and connect with people. The key is that a lot of people have to make an effort to reach out to people. The simple solution is to turn your camera on. If you turn your camera on, the others will reciprocate. You have a chance to see their facial expressions and body language.
THE ART of NETWORKING tip #4: Make an effort to make personal connections. This applies to virtual meetings or in-person networking. In the automotive industry, we’re a very technically-minded industry. A lot of engineers are introverted people. We all kind of have to force ourselves out of our comfort zones to say hello to people and make an introduction. It is very important to make a personal connection with people. In a lot of ways, you have to actually go out of your way and put a little effort into it. When you say hello and introduce yourself out of a crowd at an event where you’re in person or you know even just making sure everybody’s got their webcam on for a video call.
THE ART of NETWORKING tip #5: Put yourself out there to get started. Networking is not easy for everybody. For example, introverts and people who are more shy and quiet. It’s not that easy a task. I am an extroverted introvert. When I go to an event, I really have to spend the time to prepare myself and kick myself out of the door. If you are like me, it’s important to realize that you are not alone. Networking is difficult and uncomfortable. A lot of times it is something you have to kind of force yourself out of your comfort zone to do. Be aware that you’re not the only one. Ask yourself what’s the worst thing that’s gonna happen? You might have just a short awkward silence. Then you just move on to the next person. You really don’t have much to lose, while the benefits of making a new friend outweigh the moment of awkward silence.
THE ART of NETWORKING tip #6: Approach relationship building like banking. If you approach it like banking relationships and just deposit when you can. You will be surprised by the compounding effect years down the road. On Linkedin, you’ll see somebody popup that’s at a company now that maybe you do business with and you may have known that person from 10 years earlier. That is much easier to reach out to them to say hello and establish a new relationship when you’ve met with them before. You never know who’s going to be your boss one day. What goes around, comes around.
THE ART of NETWORKING tip #7: People you worked with are the best resources, Ask for help! The project manager often works with a new project team and requires to build connections quickly. When you’re moving from project to project, you are coming across and working with new people in new opportunities each time. While you are nurturing the new connections, don’t ever forget the people you’ve worked with on previous programs or projects can be a great resource. Those are great people to reach back to as a sounding board. When you need help, just ask! People want to help people out. If you do not ask, you will not know that how helpful the people you have worked with are.
THE ART of NETWORKING tip #8: Be observant. You have to be observant when you first meet people and trying to find a common topic to connect. Especially now, we are not meeting in someone’s personal office where you see family pictures, etc. You still can tell a lot from a video chat. such as the type of book that’s on the bookshelf; pictures of children; what’s outside of the window. You can find a lot of common opportunities and things to talk about. It could also be as simple as asking “how are you doing today.” to start a conversation.
THE ART of NETWORKING tip #9: Put yourself out there, get uncomfortable. The key takeaway is to put yourself out there. Don’t be afraid to say hi to somebody. Go to events, exchange business cards. When you do need to connect with somebody, it’s maybe not the first time they’ve ever seen your name or your face. Invest a little bit in some of the relationships that people you’re working with you never know when those investments may pay off.