Networking can be difficult. Having access to a wide group of contacts and potential resources becomes more important as professionals advance, especially for exposure to new opportunities and competitive insights; but reaching out to make and maintain contacts remains nerve-racking, even for executives.
Like most aspects of business, networking creates special challenges for executives. They often face greater expectations—from both those who need help and their companies—and high demands on their time.
Despite these challenges, executives commonly enjoy unique networking opportunities. Notably, they have greater access to forums for exhibiting their expertise and enhancing their reach.
In Person, Online, or Both?A common question facing professionals at all levels is whether to network in person or online. Fortunately, this doesn’t need to be an either-or situation.
Meeting contacts face-to-face allows you to develop stronger bonds. Eye contact and handshakes help people connect in ways electronic communications cannot. In-person interactions also provide an opportunity to read body language.
Networking online serves other valuable purposes. With the wide reach of digital platforms, executives can quickly build their volume of followers and reach out to contacts to share resources and stay in touch. The speed and ease of electronic communication may be among the reasons CFOs in a Robert Half Management Resources survey most commonly reported email is their favorite way to network professionally.
What’s Next?Assess your individual networking landscape. Are you making efforts to overcome the challenges you face? Are you prioritizing your activities? Are you taking advantage of unique opportunities coming your way?
As you consider the findings of your self-audit, keep these seven networking steps in mind:
1. Reach out to others. The biggest networking mistake executives make is not asking for help, Robert Half Management Resources research has found. We all need help at different times, and others understand this.
Don’t feel like you need to—or are expected to—have all the answers. If this is causing you stress, show contacts how you’ve worked through the problem and where you are getting stuck. This will allow them to build on your expertise.
If you’re worried about approaching people or feel like you’re bothering them, tell them why you value their support. Explaining why you came to them shows others how they can assist you and makes them feel valued.
2. Be specific. For example, if you’re interested in making a career move, what is your goal? The more people know about your needs and objectives, the better they’ll be able to help. Conversely, if you leave them guessing, you may tumble down their list of priorities.
3. Be a resource. In the survey about networking mistakes, CFOs said the second-biggest pitfall is reaching out only when you need a favor.
Actively foster relationships by serving as a resource. Introduce people who may benefit from each other’s expertise, and send interesting job postings and thought leadership you come across. Networking must be a two-way street to be effective for all involved.
4. Go deep and wide. Build relationships with professionals across industries and locations, and avoid focusing only on peer-level contacts. Those just starting out can provide insights on customer habits, ideas to attract emerging professionals to your organization, and referrals to additional contacts, for example.
Include consultants among your connections. They can share knowledge and best practices gleaned from working in diverse companies and industries. Consultants also commonly possess wide networks and can be a valuable bridge to new acquaintances.
5. Increase your visibility. Build your reputation as a thought leader by authoring articles in industry publications, mentoring, speaking at conferences, and participating in volunteer and pro bono work. You’ll showcase your expertise and help others in the process.
Establishing yourself as an influencer offers an added advantage: People want to connect with you. Instead of conducting frequent outreach to grow your network, potential contacts will now come to you.
6. Connect with a staffing and professional services firm. You can expand your range of opportunities when you work with a firm specializing in working with senior-level professionals. You will have access to consulting opportunities, providing exposure to new best practices and high-level contacts.
7. Say “thank you.” It’s so simple, yet so easy to let slide. Always show your appreciation; you risk harming your professional relationships if you don’t.
Effective networking is a continual process requiring consistent attention. Treat your acquaintances well, and they’re more likely to be able to assist you when you need them.
Use these tips as a guide as you embark on your networking efforts, and you can expand your skills and knowledge in the process.