“It looks so easy and playful,” I used to think to myself when I observed “networking experts” on the hunt for great exchange partners at trade fairs or congresses.
While I always thought what a lucky coincidence it must be to meet the right person in the right place, it wasn’t until I was in my early twenties that I realized there was a cunning strategy behind the seemingly innocuous small talk(7 Tips for Successful Networking).
At that time, I was completely immersed in the hustle and bustle of the university world and desperately tried to explain to my critics that, as a Germanist, I was not studying anything without prospects. This is when I first noticed the networking activities of the mostly somewhat older semesters. They moved confidently around the room, smiling here and sometimes there, and I realized for the first time that their actions had nothing to do with coincidence or arbitrariness.
Instead, they observed the room, specifically chose a conversation partner, stalked and politely joined the often already existing group. At the right moment, you laughed at a particular comment, which was followed by a witty remark on your part to draw attention to yourself. The ritual was concluded with a long part of active listening and the subsequent application of the so-called AIDA principle. With the trophy, namely a business card, both parties set off for new hunting grounds.
I was fascinated.
In search of your own network
Years later, this fascination always drew me from one job fair to the next. I attended career fairs, conventions and internal events as often as I could to observe, learn and apply. Through a fellow student, my network “paid off” professionally for the first time. At that time, she was working within the Gender & Diversity Management department at RWTH Aachen University, told me about an advertised position and recommended me directly.
Of course, like all applicants, I went through the general application process. Encouraged by the recommendation of my acquaintance, I was better able to go into the interview knowing that there was someone internally who believed in me.
In the course of my work, I got to know many female coaches who admonished me not to abuse my network, but to give a lot back to it from my side as well. So I began with the active care and expansion. So I also linked up with some speakers and coaches who were instrumental in getting me trained as a systemic coach today.
When the network becomes active
After my inner restlessness made me look for new challenges, I started to actively look for support opportunities that I could give to others and thus turned my focus towards volunteering. At a career event, I met an employee from the Competence Center for Women and Careers and agreed to participate in a volunteer project.
At the same time, I learned what it means to let your network rest for a while. In this case, my inner turmoil led me to look not only for a volunteer job, but also for a new professional one. Because of this, I started refreshing old contacts and meeting new ones, while struggling through a long and arduous application marathon. I had understood at that point that network maintenance had to be permanent, not just interim. It was not only tedious to meet new contacts, but also to approach old contacts and that too with a direct request. I felt as if I had knocked on old friends’ doors after several years, just to ask them to help me with something directly. Fortunately, however, after a few weeks I had become very actively involved in the networking process again and had lost my shyness about actively asking for help.
In the diverse group of women from different backgrounds, ages and professions, which I had met through my new acquaintance from the Competence Center for Women and Careers, I revealed my longing for new challenges and expressed my desire for a career change during a round of introductions.
It didn’t take a minute for the magic of the network to take hold of me.
New challenges mean more responsibility, but also more opportunities
A participant of the network, whom I had already admired until then, tapped me on the shoulder and told me about an exciting project and aroused my interest in an area that I had not thought of at all until then: a public authority.
I knew that I still had a lot to learn within the new position, after all, the quality of my work has always been very important to me and once again the credo applies: the door is open, but you also have to prove yourself worthy to be able to step through it.
The new job changed my life fundamentally.
I learned a lot in training courses, was allowed to lead my first real workshops and grew beyond myself. I loved our project and I loved the energy that existed among our (mostly female) clients. A network partnership turned into an employment relationship and I not only got a great boss, but also a competent colleague who shaped many of my developments and thought processes. Even when I changed jobs internally (looking for another challenge), I knew that my network continued to operate and grow in the background.
At the same time, a friend recommended a position as a student equal opportunity officer at RWTH Aachen University, which I also applied for and subsequently took up.
Be honest with yourself and your network will be too
Even though this path may sound quite straightforward, I must honestly confess that every challenge my network offered me also aroused a great deal of fear in me. You want to live up to a recommendation and are always afraid of disappointing the network partner if you don’t “perform” accordingly. In this situation, however, it has often helped me to put myself in the position of the “helper.” From this new perspective, you eventually realize relatively quickly that the expectation always comes from yourself and it is no big deal if no hire is made after a recommendation.Das eigene Netzwerk ist nicht nur ein Rettungsanker, es eröffnet Ihnen neue Möglichkeiten, die Sie alleine ergreifen müssen. Click To Tweet
In a professional context, I have given many workshops on alternative job search. The world of work is constantly changing and the guiding principle of an active network is not yet common in all industries or is fundamentally misunderstood.
So I started to explain to my customers (who often already had basic networks in their private lives) how to network on so-called business platforms and introduced them to LinkedIn, for example. I showed them how to sign up there, how easy it is to get in touch with others and how they manage to make a “brand” out of themselves via social media.
The astonishment was great and so was the response.
How you can specifically build your own network
Where there was great concern and skepticism at first, great curiosity followed. My customers liked the ease of use and that you don’t need Goethe-like skills to formulate an extensive expression of interest to network together. They found the platform very clear and the first delicate contacts developed among themselves. This is how you made your way from the analog to the digital realm, which often made it easier for you to make contact because it didn’t create a competitive situation, eliminated awkward silences, and made it easier to leave an uncomfortable communication situation.
I was particularly impressed by the ease with which customers explained that they received not only positive feedback on messages about profiles they found exciting, but also usually a lively interest in their own person and bibliography. In this way, they learned to draw attention to themselves, away from the standard resume, and to settle into their new role as a future, successful employee.
Tips and tricks for networking
Today, I still recommend that my clients develop alternative job search strategies, always keeping their own network in mind. Many are often alone with their own person, situation and the associated challenge and only realize in conversation that a network could make their situation easier, as long as they adhere to some guidelines:
- A recommendation is worth more than a paper application. So ask for it specifically and also recommend yourself if you believe in the person.
- With an active network, you are never alone in the job market, because it always keeps your ears and eyes open.
- A recommendation is important, but it won’t get you the job. You have to go through the door yourself, convince in the interview and prove that you can meet the (own) expectations (because these are often higher after a personal recommendation than after a standard application)
- Your network must always remain active. If you use it only to advance your interests, it will forget about you. Ask not what someone can do for you, but what good you can do for the other person. This creates a constant interrelationship based on the principle of supporting the other person and receiving this support.
- A network can promote not only professional but also personal development. As you grow, a kind of reflection phase takes place here, which drives you further and further to also strengthen your network through your own continuing education.
- Those who do not maintain their network only manage system corpses. Write about yourself, comment on others’ posts and wish them a happy birthday. Be as conscientious with a network as you are with your friends and acquaintances.
- Use not only private, but also digital networks. You can never know who knows whom and thus have the opportunity to open up circles of people and subject areas for yourself that you may not have had in mind before.
- The quality of your contacts is critical, but don’t underestimate the importance of your reach. Of course, when networking, you should pay attention to who is buzzing around in your own timeline or chronicle in the aftermath. However, constant selection is also part of the care here. Of course, 10 key contacts may be enough, but if they want to build an extensive network and also be “seen/read” and recommended by others, you need to network with those people as well. If you ask a targeted question in the public space here, the response is correspondingly much higher than if their reach only reaches the already existing 10 contacts. The important thing here is: expand your network to the extent that they still feel comfortable here.
Basically, it can be said that if you don’t network, you will still find your way in the professional world. However, this path is a lot more tedious than a quick call or LinkedIn message to an acquaintance who understands the networking philosophy and is eager to help you.
My conclusion on successful networking
So be active, include alternative networking methods (trade shows, conventions, online platforms) and you will realize that their constant efforts will pay off and they will be very happy to return the help you receive.
About the author
Kinga Bartczak berät, coacht und schreibt zu Female Empowerment, neuer Arbeitskultur, Organisationsentwicklung systemischen Coaching, und Personal Branding.
Zudem ist sie Geschäftsführerin der UnternehmerRebellen GmbH und Herausgeberin des FemalExperts Magazins.