I recently ran in to an old friend from school. She has experienced an unplanned change to her employment, and was unsure of how to get back into the field she wanted to work in. While there are still a lot of emotions around her change of job, she’s determined to find a new position that utilizes her skills and enthusiasm. When asked for my advice, one of the things we discussed was using her network to explore new opportunities. Fortunately, she has a wide network – wider than she realized!
But, what if you don’t have a strong network? How do you build your network?
I recommend you consider 3 aspects to your network: Local, Professional and Personal .
1. Local Networks:
Connect with others through associations or organisations in your local area. In my local area of Regional NSW there are a wide range of options. There’s a local Business Chamber and a range of business networking groups, including Rotary Clubs and Young Professional groups (eg. Orange Young Professionals). There are also a wide range of business breakfast and lunch groups meeting on a regular basis. Some specific professional areas run regular events related to their members, while others might be less formal. In just the last few weeks I’ve seen local Human Resources and Women in Business opportunities. Keep in mind the low key connection opportunities – many of the local trades, nurses, and teachers often meet at the pub on a Friday afternoon!
2. Professional Networks:
Engage in state or national industry or professional associations. These often provide professional development events and conferences, and the connections made might also lead to future recruitment contacts or career opportunities. If someone is looking for an experienced person to fill a role, they will often look to people they know for recommendations and referrals. Some industries might have quite a few options to choose from, or might target different people within the industry for particular events (graduates, early career or experienced managers). While it might seem expensive to join (and for those of us in regional areas, might require more time and cost in travel to attend events) these networks often provide support, online resources and opportunities for collaboration – things which are priceless and can save you time and effort. The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry is one place to start looking, and each state will have a list of incorporated associations (eg. NSW Fair Trading).
3. Personal Networks:
Find a mentor, coach or sounding board. While your partner/Mum/next-door neighbour/dog might think your ideas are fantastic, they might not have the perspective or expertise to advise you. Business Coaching is increasingly popular, for the benefits of objectivity, structure and accountability. If you have a strong professional or local network, there may be someone who you can mentor, or be mentored by. Finding the right mentor or mentee might be more of a challenge, but for de-briefing or a shoulder to lean on, they’re more than worth a cup of coffee! The mentor-mentee relationship builds over time as a learning experience, and in concert with the local and industry groups, can provide valuable opportunities for reflection.
Build your network through being ethical, genuine, engaged and reliable. Follow through with promises. Respect your competitors. Take up opportunities to be involved.
Be personable, and keep in mind that networks are a “long game” in relation to building trust and relationships. Don’t burn your bridges!
Don’t be in a hurry to get results from a network. The benefits should be mutual, and you should expect to get back what you give over time. You might also need to test out a few different network options to find the right one, depending on your needs and your goals.
Need help identifying opportunities in your local area? Interested in developing the skills to engage at networking events? Mayten Consulting can work with you to identify opportunities, build your skills and grow your network.