Networking for Career Success

It was my great pleasure to be part of SEPnet (South East Physics Network) and the Institute of Physics’ recent careers event.  The aim was to help physics doctoral students explore a snapshot of the amazing career opportunities awaiting them post PhD.

Covering a spectrum of career paths, the impressive panel of professionals shared their career stories and experiences.  These facilitated career discussions were mixed with informal conversations and positive connections.

As well as being MC for the evening, I was asked to kick-off the event with a mini masterclass on the often emotive subject of networking.  Of all the components in our communication tool kit this can provoke the strongest Jekyll and Hyde reaction.  What do I mean?

Putting Networking in Perspective

Whichever way you look at it there’s a light and a dark side to networking; there’s the good, the bad…and sometimes the ugly (more on that later).  But isn’t that true with many things in life?

Ultimately, successful networking is about achieving a balance.  Taking a realist perspective and embracing networking on your terms is definitely the best way forward.

Being cynical towards networking is diminishing and reduces your chances of success.  Being naive about the realities of networking can lead you to feeling let down or disillusioned.

So how do you go about harnessing the power of networking to help you achieve the career success you desire?

Here are 5 insights which have helped me and others on our networking adventures…

5 Insights to Improve Your Networking

It’s a people thing:  Fundamentally, networking is about people interacting, virtually or physically.   It’s all about sharing, learning, exploring and evolving together.  Obviously, we all have our own personal career aspirations and objectives.  Interacting with others helps us to achieve our own, and others to achieve theirs.  Your career may be your responsibility but you won’t be able to achieve the success you desire without interacting with people.

Be aware of the bad apples:  There are people who network solely for personal gain without any interest in anyone else.  If they do show interest it’s because this will be good for them and not out of genuine respect for others.  We all encounter people like this; knowing they exist, and recognising them for what they are, is part of having a healthy attitude and approach to networking.

It’s not a power thing:  At the beginning of your career, it can feel like you are looking for help and talking to people with nothing to offer in return.  It may feel like this but the truth is very different.  Any communication or interaction with positive intent is a multi-way process where there is an exchange taking place.   Your perspective on life, your experiences are different and valid.  This means people you interact with will take value from you through learning something new, feeling up-lifted by your enthusiasm or by being able to help you.

It’s more than a job hunt:  Networking is a skill for life.  Being able to interact off-line and online with new and different people; building rapport; nurturing professional relationships; are all important aspects of your employability.  In addition, understanding what the wider world needs, the challenges being faced and how you can add value are all helped through interaction with people.   Remember, organisations only exist, survive and thrive because of people.  Consequently, they are always on the lookout for top talent.  Career opportunities are everywhere, some exist, some are being formulated and some are waiting to be created.

Create your own networking mix:  Like your career, the way you combine and create your networking opportunities and activities is unique to you.  Think about what you are trying to achieve, your values and what sort of networked community you would like to create.  Try different routes to sparking conversations and reaching out to others.  See what works for you.  And as you and your career evolve, make sure your networking mix evolves too.

Networking for career success is a positive and empowering experience, if you adopt the right attitude and approach.  Yes, it can sometimes be challenging and frustrating and you meet the occasional ‘bad apple’ but in general people are friendly and helpful if you give them the chance.

Talking of ‘bad apples’, I nearly forgot about my earlier reference to the ‘ugly’ side of networking.  Once upon a time I met someone at a networking event who behaved unlike anyone I’d ever experienced before.  Rude, aggressive, full of self-importance and red wine!  To help me turn this ugly experience into a positive one I wrote a poem about it.  If you’d like to read it you’ll find it here…

Good luck with all your networking adventures 🙂

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