Are you nervous about networking? Do you feel anxious when it is time for mingle events? If the answer is yes you are not alone. In this article Niklas Ylander writes about the value of networking and how you practice it. Increasing the awareness about its social character you can get by the fear of mingling and making your way through the complex domain of foreign policy.
Networking is an essential part of working life. In multinational organizations networking is a natural phenomenon when you handle contacts with people with different backgrounds. In working life there are always tasks with a short deadline and you need to interact with many people in order to deliver. American statistics also show that 70 per cent of the jobs are mediated by social contacts.
The stereotypical story about networking tends however to be about the man in black suit near the coffee machine at the conference. The initial contact is typical about gaining something concrete from the high rank officer in order to be seen as successful. In contrast to this stereotype the prestige university Yale pinpoint the more sophisticated approach to networking for students:
… not to get a job, it is about establishing professional relationships with people who can give you information and advice, and creating loose bonds with their contacts that may help you with your current search and future career.
Focus is thus on getting information and advice from people that can help you not only here and now but also in the longer perspective. It is also to be introduced to informal contacts where the benefits might be highly ambiguous in the beginning. Networking is more of a natural socializing at work rather than the seldom meeting with the officer in black suit at the coffee machine.
Networking is also by nature a far more broader concept that you exercise when you grab a beer with a new colleague or course participant. Maybe you meet people shortly at an event that you might run by later in another situation. These mediators that you have a loose relationship with are not part of your inner circle, but on the other hand they can introduce you to new people. This is essential in the domain of foreign affairs that by nature involves your relationship itself with other actors.
Meeting people at mingle events can give you information about an important meeting that you should attend or what to prepare in advance. When you are working on the complex project with the short deadline most often you do not have enough knowledge to solve the task on your own. Knowing whom to contact for advice can help you to finish the project.
A narrow approach on networking is problematic when you tend to meet the same people that have similar background as yourself. Your network risks becoming too homogenous without the dynamic component in a mixed environment. From this perspective the mixed composition of people that you meet give you more diverse information and feedback on your ideas.
As an inexperienced student you might blame yourself for exploiting others in your networking to further your ‘egoistic’ interests. However, more senior professionals do not necessarily share that view and focus more on how they can help others. If you as a student or newly graduated you should notice your own contribution and share your own ideas. Then it is easier to make the relationship more mutually beneficial.
A relevant issue is to identify how you can emphasize your contribution during the mingle events with more experienced colleagues. A good advice is to focus on your interests in the field and choose an occasion that you are comfortable with. Maybe you already know what kind of people that will attend a certain meeting. If there will be representatives from an interest group or a state agency present you can prepare in advance what interests they might represent. Then you can have some standard questions in mind that really interest you and that you can use for discussions in depth.
For the more experienced it is appreciated to have the opportunity to talk about their own expert field with someone that really listens. If the conversation would get a more personal tone it could deepen your professional relationship. If you take the conversation into this direction you should be prepared for follow up questions.
Sometimes you can end up talking with for example a very senior diplomat that already has met all world leaders and knows everything of interest. As an intern with no business cards from any presidents you might look for people on your own level that were in your position not long ago. Most often we tend to seek contact with those on our own level and this can be beneficial in the start, especially as a nervous intern. A good advice is to stay close to a newly graduated colleague at your work that can talk about formalities and the hiring process. Later on you will see networking as a more natural process and become more active.
When you are working with a specific project it is easier to note how networking really pays off. The colleagues that you engaged earlier on might now be more open minded for your request for assistance. If you would need to find more specialized competence outside your organization or group for your project it can be relevant to check open sources like LinkedIn, media or branch websites for background information.
After you have started your professional networking you might forget that relationships need to be maintained, especially when you do not meet your contacts in your daily life. As a student or newly graduated it is extra important to keep the contacts alive with professionals that can give you valuable insights in your field. After your internship you can for example invite your supervisor for lunch. The worst answer can simply be a no.
Now when you see networking as a social process with a long term horizon you are far ahead. Seeing the value of networking it is more tempting to interact with others that have information and knowledge that you need. In the long run you will be the one that others approach for advice.