We take a look at why face-to-face networking remains such a crucial element in your career development and how to ensure you get the most out of such occasions
In today’s business world it is not unusual to do a great deal of communication through the internet and email, to the point that business transactions can be completed without the two parties involved ever meeting face to face or even speaking over the phone.
However prominent finance professionals and recruitment experts all agree that it is nonetheless extremely important to be adept at networking face to face as well in order to gain maximum benefits for your career.
Nicholas Kirk, regional managing director at Page Personnel Finance, says: ‘Getting a job is often about who you know. In order to grow your network, candidates must connect with key players in the industry and by doing so they’re likely to be closer to their ideal role.
‘Networking isn’t a new phenomenon, but the ability to connect with people online does make it easier – however, this shouldn’t replace the traditional face-to-face interactions. Also remember that your recruiter is part of your network too, so make sure you keep in regular contact with them, not just when you need a job.
‘Be bold and attend events alone, although it can often be daunting, going as a group or with a friend can sometimes be inhibiting and could prevent you from talking to a new potential employer,’ he adds.
Most people wait until they need a job before they begin to network, however networking should be a continuous development of relationships and not simply carried out on an as-needed basis.
Always approach networking in terms of what you can do for someone, not what they can do for you. If you are building your network and asking what you can do to help instead of asking how others can help you, networking tends to be more effective.
When attending networking events it is always advisable to go with a clear purpose in mind and even set yourself a challenge, such as aiming to speak to a specific organisation you would like to work for. Don’t wait for people to approach you, introduce yourself in an assertive, friendly manner and make sure you have your ‘elevator pitch’ top of mind.
Before you attend an event, make sure you do your research. If you have an attendee list it can help to look people up on LinkedIn in advance. This will not only help you identify who to target on the day, but it should also make you feel more confident when approaching new faces.
Make a list of ‘targets’ – the people you know you want to meet. Most conferences and other meet-and-greet events do now use social media to publish a list of attendees, which can be helpful in your preparation. Many events also use hash tags on Twitter so attendees can connect before and during the event.
It is also wise to prepare a conversation opener – we are all guilty of going blank at some point when meeting new people, so having a standard opener can really help the conversation flow, as well as assist with any nerves. In the same vein, try to arrive at networking events early so you are in a relaxed frame of mind when it begins.
QUALITY NOT QUANTITY
Ellis King, manager in accountancy and finance at Morgan McKinley, says: ‘Whatever stage of your career, networking is an important skill to master. Although online networking tools – such as LinkedIn – may make you feel more at ease, face-to-face events are equally as important for a successful career in accountancy.
‘Also remember that your networking efforts should adopt the ‘quality not quantity’ approach. Whilst for the more confident of us, it may be tempting to talk to as many individuals as possible, it is much more effective to stick to two or three people who you can make a lasting impression on and who can help take your career to the next stage.’
WORKING THE ROOM
Attending a professional face-to-face networking event can be like going to a party at a stranger’s house. You scan the crowd, searching for friendly faces, hoping you know at least one other person. When you realise you have to work the event solo, you’re suddenly nervous – especially if ‘working the room’ doesn’t come naturally to you.
However Phil Sheridan, senior managing director at Robert Half, urges you not to be put off in such circumstances: ‘Take a deep breath and try to relax. First, remember that other professionals at the event are feeling exactly the same. Second, devise an action plan, focusing on event-specific goals you wish to accomplish.
Here are some strategies to help network successfully:
- Organise some brief notes on what you know about a targeted contact that could be relevant to your discussion. Consider connecting on LinkedIn and planning to meet up at the event.
- A day or two after the networking event, review your event card and the business cards you collected, and begin your follow-up emails. A brief email to say 'hello' and remind a new contact about the conversation you had should suffice.
- If you don’t hear back from a contact after two attempts, more than likely that person is not interested in keeping in touch. Don’t take it personally. Not every connection you make is going to lead to a meaningful business relationship. Focus your energy instead on those relationships you sense are going to be the most fruitful. If you approached the event strategically, you will have more than enough interesting new contacts to add to your professional network.
- Remember that despite online networking and job search tools, face-to-face networking is and will remain crucial to a job search. A personal recommendation often makes the difference between getting an interview and your CV not making the cut. It is no coincidence that successful CFOs and senior figures in finance depend on their relationships and network.