My students hear the term ‘network’ so often that, at this point; they are likely to be tuning me out every time I mention the term. Networking is essential to success but not everyone does it well. It is no wonder then that, while preparing to write about this topic, I discovered that many articles and publications had already been written about the value of networking and how to become a good networker. Not wanting to sound redundant I found myself searching for a unique perspective from which to write.
I told my 12-year-old daughter that I was writing this article and her response was “that’s easy…I could write that!” She immediately started talking about the social networking tools that she and her friends use to stay in touch. I decided to focus on what I think makes me a fairly good networker. I arrived at the following: genuine networking, staying up-to-date online, attending social and cultural events, and being prepared to talk about myself.
Networking can be loosely defined as building a list of people, from your field of expertise/interest, with whom you can connect for different projects. Others may suggest that it is a list of “important” people whom you have at your immediate disposal. While having a long list of professionals is impressive to some, I am not sure it is really essential or even effective for good networking.
Experience has taught me that networks are stronger when they are genuine, and where the members of the network are not merely connected in a superficial symbiotic manner. Good networks reflect sincere investments in the commitment of the individuals to stay connected. People are more willing to help those that they care about and with whom they have formed strong relationships. Genuine networking goes both ways. You must be willing to help people in your network when needed and be as accessible to them as you expect them to be to you. Being honest and forthcoming with the people in your network about what you can and cannot do is also important.
Know your target audience
Market yourself online but more importantly update your information! Sometimes we focus so much on being available in a million places online, that we forget about basic marketing principles like “know your target audience”. Instead of having your information out there in forty places, consider creating online networks in just a few places that you consistently check and update on a regular basis. If you want people to find you and be able to network with you, they need to have accurate information about your skills and abilities. Equally important is that you find out where your colleagues are networking online and be available in those spaces.
Social and cultural events at conferences or meetings provide useful platforms for meaningful networking. One of the biggest mistakes that most persons make when trying to network is attributed to their lack of participation or absence from social or cultural programmes. We naturally form relationships in these types of settings that are fundamental to successful networking. Your presence and participation makes it easier for you to be seen and remembered. When you meet with your peers in a relaxed setting you can share personal interests and experiences that can result in discussing opportunities inclusive of new projects, collaboration on other research projects, events or forums.
People tend to trust you more when you are approachable and relatable. Be prepared to talk about yourself and your interests. Figure out what you have in common with people present and build conversations around your similarities. Tell interesting stories about what it was like to do research; talk about everyday issues that you are passionate about. After a long day of academic sessions, some people are tired of talking about research and appreciate more the opportunity to socialize. You might be surprised to find that some of the best contacts that you make are from simply being open to talk about yourself. One of the most significant contacts I made was on a bus ride back to the hotel after a full day of sessions!
In conclusion, be genuine in all encounters, update your information online, don’t skip out on social functions and be comfortable and ready to talk about yourself… always!
By Jan L Jones