Networking is defined, broadly speaking, as: “the action or process of interacting with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts”.
Investing time and effort in networking can help young professionals to develop important relationships and progress faster in their careers. Here, in the latest article from the new Barden & Chartered Accountants Ireland Career Guide 2023, Sonya Boyce, HR and Organisational Development Consulting Director, Mazars Ireland, explains why.
When we think of networking as a transactional, one-sided, and artificial relationship, however, it can make us feel slightly uncomfortable about the concept, as though we are somehow using someone for our own professional gain.
Through our work with clients at Mazars and our own experience, we can see that post-COVID-19, working habits have reinforced artificial or contrived perceptions of networking. Many employees have lost the appetite to network effectively, and it can be difficult to mobilise people to re-engage with their existing network and forge new connections in-person.
Just as those connections become even more important in a physically disconnected professional environment, it is key that people invest now in re-establishing and developing their networks in a meaningful way. Unlocking your network effectively in a post-COVID-19 world could be the key to deeper engagement with colleagues, faster career development and more enjoyable working environments and relationships.
Benefits of Networking
A strong professional network can be a powerful asset in your career development, playing a critical role in progression, professional opportunities, and making work more enjoyable.
Building a network is about relationships with colleagues, bosses, friends, industry colleagues or connections. Your network isn’t just the relationships you have nurtured over time with friends and colleagues. It also includes more distant relationships and connections with thought leaders, business leaders, and “infrequent contacts”, such as casual acquaintances, and people you have met at conferences. While not necessarily as close, these connections can be an invaluable part of your network and often possess information or links that can grow your reach and opportunity to learn.
This network, of both close and looser ties, developed over the course of your career, can support greater job mobility, while also being beneficial for employment opportunities, career progression and rewards. TOP
Developing a network or networking is not simply about attending conferences and events to “sell” yourself professionally. Growing a network is about relationship building, developing trust and engaging with the needs and interests of the people you meet and connect with. To help you enhance this network, especially if you find the process intimidating, here are some useful ideas to consider:
Networking As Learning
Developing a network is not about gaining connections immediately. Like any relationship, it takes time to develop trust and understanding. Therefore, considering networking as a learning exercise in which we engage is important.
Understanding People’s “Currencies”
Different people are motivated and engaged in different ways. Allan R. Cohen and David L. Bradford, the organisation psychologists known for their work about the power of influencing, wrote extensively on understanding people’s currencies, in order to be able to influence others without authority.
Their work identified five primary currencies:
These five “currencies” can help us identify areas for potential collaboration with other people, develop our networks, and deepen our relationships with others.
Networking to Get Ahead
Building your network is just as much about those outside your organisation as it is about your colleagues inside the organisation. One Cornell University study on networking found a correlation between a person’s ability to engage with internal network and their professional opportunities. In the study, lawyers whose personal views of networking were positive ended with more billable hours and greater choice over the projects they wished to work on, than their colleagues who were less inclined to network.
In essence, those who engage colleagues, make connections and put themselves forward—i.e., those willing and able to develop their personal networks—were more successful in their careers.
Overcoming Your Fear
There is a great opportunity for employers to support and encourage employees to network. Julia Hobsbawm, author of The Nowhere Office, has, for example, promoted the idea of a Chief Networks Officer (CNO) as a means for organisations to put focus and energy into ensuring that employees are getting the most value out of their connections.
Hobsbawm says: “Really, the office is going to be good for two things—social networks and learning. Because people have been out of the office, the last thing you want to do is to send them to a conference.” Putting networks, and networking, at the C-Suite level would send a clear message to employees and customers alike about the importance of relationships, consistent engagement, chance encounters and stretch projects or developmental opportunities that come from our direct and indirect network.