When the HR Roundtable in Cincinnati convened in April, it took on a different tone on a topic that is spoken about often, but understood poorly when it comes to practice — networking.
It’s often done for the sole purpose of getting your next great job. The reality is that networking is so much more than that.
To get people to start thinking differently, they tackled the following questions:
- What are lasting methods/forums of networking?
- What are tangible benefits of networking?
- Why should we consider networking a “business skill?”
The small groups jumped right in and started discussing. After some time, they came back to the larger group to share their thoughts. Take a look …
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What are lasting methods/forums of networking?
- Groups that have a purpose beyond networking — This was a great response because we often overlook existing groups/forums as places to actually network. They are actually some of the healthiest places to do this. Since groups like this have some “higher calling” as their focus, people who already have a common interest join them. It’s a great place to make lasting connections personally and professionally!
- Forums that cover areas you’re passionate about — Passion is another factor around networking that is overlooked. You are in a better position mentally when you find forums where you already have a passion. This is also solid because you enter these forums with energy and interest going in. That will be attractive to others as being a place to connect with you.
- Groups that create a learning environment — This was fantastic because we think of conferences, training sessions and professional development as personal arenas only. They are, in fact, an incredible place to meet, connect and grow with others who are also looking to learn. Having more common bonds gives you the opportunity to have meaningful network connections.
- Places that allow for a long-term investment of my time — Environments can have either a short-term or long-term vibe. Both are great, but you may have more success networking in environments where people show more of a vested interest. It may not mean that you need to come to every event they hold, but knowing that there is stability in what they do may be a good indicator of staying power.
- Having a targeted/focused approach — This may be something such as going to groups that are industry specific or even a niche within an industry. This may also occur if the forums offer a program that features a topic that fits within your targeted focus. It’s key to remember that this should be one option and approach and not your only one. Too often people focus in such narrow ways they miss other great opportunities around them.
- Social media — You could hear a pin drop on this one. Social media and networking go together seamlessly, but many people are still wary of the effectiveness and long-term impact. The key to making social media forums be tangible networking environments breaks down to four key items:
- Be visible and consistent in the forums you choose;
- Offer content and value, don’t just talk about yourself;
- Connect others within the forum to people you’ve connected with; and,
- Be genuine and authentic – it’s not a sales show.
What are tangible benefits of networking?
- It provides viable resources in many different areas — It’s important to remember that networking leads to connecting with other humans. Humans that have knowledge, experience, strengths and also networks of their own. Networking isn’t about “getting” something from others. It’s about learning what others have to offer and utilizing that as a resource.
- Developing self-confidence — There are VERY few people who network and connect with others effortlessly. However, we look to those types of people as a benchmark, and then we’re hesitant to act because we don’t see ourselves being like them. You aren’t like them, and quit trying to be !! When you network and connect even with a few connections, you will start to build self-confidence as a communicator and someone who builds relationships. It’s not about mimicry. It’s about connecting.
- Belonging — People want to belong. It’s an innate need in all of us. The extent of belonging is different in every person. Most people are content with having a small to mid-size network of people. Few want giant networks because it takes time, effort and energy to maintain all networks regardless of size. Don’t overlook the power of belonging because you KNOW you want to belong somewhere and to someone!
- It’s a group of building blocks — The cool thing about networking from a long-term perspective is that you build a web of connections that usually add to each other with every person who joins in. You can’t know where that will take things, but having more people with more skills makes you, and them, more holistic and well-rounded personally and professionally.
- It shrinks the world — It’s amazing how small the world really is. With networking, the connections you make bring people together instead of them being more isolated. As you continue to do this over time, you’ll find that you’ll be at non-networking places and see folks you know. It can literally happen around the world as well as the places you regularly convene.
Why should we consider networking a “business skill?”
- Networking consistently communicates your company’s brand — This is true whether you work for a larger organization, an entrepreneurial company, or a consultancy. Having people connect with you and then associate you with what your company does is invaluable. If you represent yourself well, people will make the jump to see that your company does things well also. You can’t buy this kind of advertising.
- It develops communication skills — Just as it was mentioned earlier that networking develops self-confidence, it also develops communication skills. The more you have a chance to meet, interact and connect with other people, you indirectly learn what works, or fails, in regards to communicating with others. It’s a safe way to hone your skills outside your daily environment and role.
- It could bring business to your company — People choose companies based on people and their interactions. Your product or service may rock, but if people have an icky interaction with someone from a networking basis, it won’t matter. We need to remember that all employees have the chance to “market” in every environment they are in. This happens in more informal settings than it does established meetings. Having a strong network can bring amazing amounts of business to your organization. Don’t overlook this!
- You can find great talent — There is a strong jobseeker component to networking, but we rarely look at it as a chance to meet great people who could come work for you sometime. There are tons of people you interact with every day and in a variety of situations. You may come across someone who has great skills and strengths who may not be looking to change jobs. However, they may consider it if you are their connection and you see what they may be able to offer. It’s an indirect way to recruit, but it works.
- You build long-term relationships — We have to quit thinking of networking as a “means to an end.” People that network with the sole purpose of landing a job and then never continuing a relationship will fail more often than not. It may result in landing a gig, but people will see that the ulterior motives aren’t very cool, and it will catch up to them. Networking should result in long-term relationships that can last for years. You never know when a networking connection will come up and provide the exact need or resource you were looking for.
Networking needs to shift and become a critical business skill for everyone to be healthy, contributing people in their organizations. Once we realize that having active, viable networks helps us succeed, then we’ll see the power of networking relationships.
This was one of our highest attended Roundtables, and that was awesome. It shows that people want to figure this out and do it better because they see the value in networking, connecting and belonging!