Business Networking: Why Getting Offline Will Help Your Career
by Yvette McKenzie
Posted: May 20, 2015
These days, when we talk about business networking our minds immediately turn to cyberspace.
Socially, we’re using Facebook and Twitter to win friends and influence people and, in the career space, LinkedIn is regarded as essential. Networking is easy. We simply press a button and, voila, a connection is made.
Or is it?
It wasn’t so long ago that networking events were all about a crush of people shoving business cards at you. That’s right. You actually had to go out of your way and meet people face to face. What’s more, the experts believe that we should still be doing it.
“Face-to-face networking is important for your career,” says Jacqui Rochester, a Brisbane-based psychologist, career counselor and career coach. “Your qualifications, skills and experience – the kinds of things you’re putting on your online profiles – will tell the world what you can do, but the reality is that in the world of work, people still deal with people. They’re looking for people they can work with, that will fit their company culture, not just a skillset.”
Making a person-to-person connection is the best way to keep yourself top of mind when opportunities arise.
“There’s a thing called the hidden job market,” says Rochester. “It very much exists and in tougher economic times, which we’re dealing with now, it’s how people are finding jobs. A lot of jobs are never advertised, and you hear about the opportunities via people you’ve met and talked to.”
Why can’t I just do it all online?
It can be easier to network online. After all, you never face the real pain of rejection. If someone doesn’t respond to your Linked In invitation, chances are you won’t even notice. Making a call, or trying to initiate a conversation, on the other hand, are much more confronting. So why do it?
“Online networking is important, and it’s necessary,” says Rochester. “But it’s not necessarily sufficient.”
Online networking is a great way to connect with the larger world, putting your profile out there and, in many cases, connecting with people that you’d never meet in the real world any other way. But it’s not enough, according to Rochester.
“What’s really important is to take it to the next level,” she says. “Use those online tools to make the initial connection and find out more information, but then follow up and meet people.”
As far as she’s concerned, your online profile acts as a CV – an outline of what you can do – and it’s important to parlay that into real connections. “People don’t employ skillsets,” she reiterates. “It’s the person that counts in the end, and the more they know you, the more they’ll know that you’re a good fit for their organisation (or another opportunity they hear about) and keep you in mind.”
Three tips for face-to-face networking
- Join your industry’s professional association, and attend networking events. While the idea of this might make your blood freeze, the fact is that this is a great way to stay informed about updates in your industry, and to meet people with similar interests and ambitions.
- Take baby steps outside your comfort zone. Contact one person in your online network and ask for a ‘coffee’ or face-to-face meeting. Use the meeting as an ‘information interview’ – go prepared with questions to ask. “Be strategic, and do your homework,” says Rochester. “Target people, fields or organisations that are of interest to you.” She recommends starting with someone you know, and then ask them for leads or referrals to others.
- Build your network based on a ‘care’ factor. This is not about adding to a trophy case of ‘useful people I know’. Meaningful and effective networking is about caring and reciprocity.