Most of us fit into one of two camps when we hear the phrase ‘networking’.
Some of us are thrilled at the prospect of meeting new people, making new contacts, and potentially munching on a few office-bought pastries while we do it. Networking is a cinch, a thrill even.
Now, for every one of these social butterflies, there are equal numbers of us who want to jump right under our duvets and put on some dark sunglasses at the first cry of a ‘meet and greet’. We’ll keep the pastries though. Pastries are always welcome.
Whichever camp you find yourself in (and you’re absolutely valid either way), there’s always space to improve how you network. Today, we’re getting into the nitty-gritty. We’ll share why we think you should find value in networking, whether it makes you squeal or squirm, and give you our best advice on how to do it.
It’s more than just free pastries: why networking is important
We’ve all heard the old adage ‘it’s who you know’. While we’re all about breaking down barriers and recognising privilege at Sort, there’s still a lot to be said about getting to know folk in your industry in order to learn more, grow, and even find new opportunities.
Learning from others
How do you get to know what you want to do for work? Reading? Researching? Scrolling through Sort? If you think about it, all this is very similar to networking: just a lot more one-sided. By speaking to actual folk in your industry, you can gain more relevant and dynamic information about how you might shape your future. Networking gives you the chance to hear about the lives and experiences of those around you in your chosen field - and it may well help you work out what your next step is.
On top of this, if you’re an employed person, sometimes the easiest route to move into a new area of work is within your own company. If you happen to know folk in different departments, you’re much more likely to hear about upcoming vacancies, volunteering opportunities, or cross-department projects that might just help you grow.
You’re not alone
Not only is networking great for your career, but for your mental health too. Networking expert Ula Howlett reminded us of this:
How to network, online and offline
Gone are the days when networking was reserved only for conference rooms in large office buildings. With the last three years under our belts, the corporate world has come to recognise that requiring physical presence somewhere means a huge limit to diverse representation. After-work drinks can leave out parents needing to be home for 4 to get the kids, and that swish board room in central London will be hard to get to remote workers in Leeds!
With this in mind, we’ll be focusing mainly on the best ways to network remotely, but a lot of what we’ll be sharing can apply to in-person meet-ups, too.
Decide on your methods
Are you going to an in-person meet-up? Or are you networking online? Here are our best tips for finding the right people:
- LinkedIn. The go-to for virtual networking! Follow, connect, comment and interact with people in your sector.
- Free Webinars. Companies frequently share upcoming virtual webinars via social media and their newsletters, so keep an eye out.
- Social Media. Whether it’s interacting on an Instagram Live or DMing an entrepreneur you admire, learn where your people are. Facebook groups are also great for this one, but be selective about which ones you join - are they of real value to you? Can you add something to the group?
- Hobby and interest groups. Whether you are desperate to get into the knitting industry or are keen to share your fab new dog grooming business, finding local meet-ups near you is a great way to share it. These will usually be advertised online, at your local library, or in local region magazines. Careful not to spend the entire time talking about your business or availability, though, try to show respect for the community and those within it!
Do your research
This takes two forms - knowing yourself well, and knowing the people around you. Plan a brief summary of who you are, what you do (or hope to do) for work, and why you’re wanting to network. This way, when you approach people on or offline, you don’t stumble when people ask to know more about you.
Equally, get to know what you can about the person, or group of people, you’re keen to get to know. That might be looking them up on LinkedIn, or reading about their company. You don’t need to be able to write their unofficial biography but have a gauge of who you’re talking to.
Have a goal (but be flexible!)
Are you looking to learn about the other departments at your firm? Or perhaps you’re wanting to gain knowledge about an entirely new area of work? Perhaps you’re keen to gain some informal mentoring from a professional you admire. It could even be that you’re simply keen to meet other folk in your area to form friendships! When you spend time networking, keep in mind why you are there. Your time is valuable!
Make sure there is mutual value
Picture yourself in 15 years' time. You’re established in your field, and you’re pretty busy. Perhaps you have a family you want to get home to, or you have hobbies that need some love. If a person you don’t know approached you, didn’t introduce themselves and simply asked if they could have a job, are you going to put your energy into helping them?
We live in a capitalist society - and sadly, time is often money! This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t approach people you admire. Far from it – but think about how this might add value to the other person. Whether that be through giving back (so make it clear that you’ve done your research and would hugely value their time), or through learning about something from you too, think about networking as a give and take.
When the duvet is calling: breaking down fears and anxieties
We know, it’s hard. When you’re totally new to the game or have experienced knockbacks and disappointments, it can feel really scary to put yourself out there. So, how do you get past the desperate desire to jump back into bed?
First, it’s about being prepared. If you know what you want to gain, have an idea of who you want to chat to, and what to chat about, that’s 90% of the work done. No more fear about what you’ll say, you’ve already got that nailed.
If it’s anxiety around rejection, our advice is this. Rejection is a part of life. We experience it every day - Costa ran out of oat milk, your manager didn’t love your idea for a reel about camels, maybe your kid told you that you look like a witch when you woke up this morning. If we come to accept that we’re going to get knockbacks, we come to embrace them. What’s the worst that can happen if the person you were hoping to get as a mentor isn’t available? If you don’t try, you’ll never know. And a surefire way of not getting what you want is not asking for it in the first place!
Keeping up the momentum
So, you know what you want to learn, and you know who or where you’re going to learn it from. You’ve plucked up the courage to network. Perhaps you went to an event or jumped on a zoom with someone you really admire. Firstly, congrats! What a huge step you’ve taken! We’re really chuffed for you.
The important bit now is keeping up the momentum. Networking isn’t just a one-off thing, and now you’re getting more confident, it’s time to build it into your everyday life.
Ula made a great point here.
“Networking is about relationships, not skin deep connections. Networking happens everywhere - it’s in your Mums group, your local dog-walking chat, your work, and even the line at the supermarket. Think about it less as a stand-alone thing and more about an approach to growth throughout your life”.
So embrace networking. Add it to your belt of tools to take you through life. Don’t isolate it as a thing to go on your to-do list, but remember there’s something to learn from everyone you meet. Good luck!