Earlier this week myself and a youth worker took a group of 10 young people, aged between 15-23, to a launch event in central London in the scope of my Communications Coordinator role at The Salmon Youth Centre in Bermondsey.
The event was in a plush venue with about 120 people, mostly adults, dressed in 2-piece suits and flowery dresses and high heels. There were wine glasses and soft drinks passed around by smart waiters in all-black attire; green and black olives, peanuts and breadsticks delicately occupied small dishes on the bar tables littered around the room, and canapés of mini mushroom tarts, mini burgers and mini fish and chips made their way round to all the attendees.
Prior to the prepared speeches and entertainment that followed, there was a half an hour slot for networking and mingling. On arrival, some of the bolder young people immediately assimilated into the crowd, but a few weren’t so quick-footed. I noticed one of the young men looked uncomfortable and was particularly withdrawn so I approached him to find out what was going on.
“I don’t like it here,” he said, “This is not my scene at all! These people are not like me – they don’t look like me, sound like me, dress like me…I don’t fit in here.”
Naturally my first reaction was to reassure him that it was okay and that these people weren’t scary at all. But then I remembered what it was like for me when I first started going to networking events – I remember feeling some of those exact feelings the first, second, third and even up to the tenth time I attended a networking event and I didn’t even have the excuse of being a young person!
There’s just something about walking into a room full of strangers that can bring out the inner introvert in even the most confident of us, but yet networking remains a vital tool that you can’t ignore if you want to succeed in today’s job market. The old adage, “It’s not what you know, but who you know”, still rings true today.
Successful networking is all about building and developing close relationships with people, some of whom may end up having a direct impact on your career. The good news is networking isn’t just restricted to uncomfortable face-to-face events; increasingly online networking, via social media, is proving just as valuable as a means of building and nurturing those all-important relationships.
If you have yet to explore networking as a means of boosting your career, I would highly recommend the book Teach Yourself Successful Networking in a Week which provides excellent coverage on all the basics of networking and how you can make it work for you.
Five tips for effective networking
- Network outside of your network – connect with people from different backgrounds and different fields for a much richer networking experience (social media facilitates this well);
- Go to networking events alone – this will force you to talk to people instead of clinging on to your mate all night;
- Don’t be afraid to ask – if you need advice from someone in your network, or perhaps an introduction to someone else, just ask! Most people like to help (when asked nicely);
- Give something back where possible – it could be a referral, forwarding an article of interest to your contact, or simply retweeting their tweets. Networking relationships work best when they are mutually beneficial so don’t just focus on what you can get, make sure you’re giving to the relationship too;
- Do stay in touch – “out of sight, out of mind” – keep your networks fresh by staying in touch; this could be an email now and again, a tweet mention, LinkedIn message, or (where appropriate), a phone call.
- Looking for a job? Get out more! (mildredtalabi.com)
- How networking can help your career and your business (wisewolftalking.com)