How to get the most out of networking
It’s only natural to feel nervous about networking but it doesn’t have to be a daunting task. Networking is all about keeping the conversations interesting, finding others with common interests and hopefully meeting the right contacts who can help facilitate your new role. Here are some tips that should help you feel at ease and enable you to get the most out of the networking experience:
The last thing you need is to enter an event where groups have already been formed, and people have moved forward in their conversations. Another plus can be an opportunity to meet people as they arrive, thus avoiding large crowds especially if you are nervous about networking. Make sure to carry business/contact detail cards to introduce yourself, but don’t make it about collecting the most cards from these events. Focus on the conversations instead and work towards building meaningful relationships. Whilst it’s true that you need to stand out from the crowd and leave a lasting impression, it’s also important you don’t use any gimmicks and promotions to attract unnecessary attention. Your aim is to be seen as an absolute professional and a potential hire, therefore how you dress up and interact makes a massive difference. Statistics say that it takes about seven seconds to make a strong first impression- so smile, shake hands, maintain eye contact and communicate clearly; making your first impression a great one.
Easier said than done I’m sure, but the key to a great conversation is to stay calm and let the interaction flow naturally. It helps if you imagine yourself in different scenarios beforehand and practice your ‘elevator pitch’ a couple of times in the mirror, until you find a version you’re comfortable with but doesn’t sound too rehearsed. Keep it simple and short (about 20- 30 seconds is more than enough) so you don’t end up talking about yourself the whole time. Have a good opening line, some pertinent information about yourself and your experience, and close with a leading question to encourage further conversation and participation from others.
Keep yourself relevant
If you’re returning to work after a career break, what you lack in terms of time you need to make up for in relevant information. I recommend you set a plan to read and research a little bit every day. I followed this approach whilst preparing for my master’s degree a couple of years ago- juggling a demanding full-time career and several personal challenges, but focused primarily on setting realistic deadlines. Pick topics that are related to your field of work and interest, and look up what’s been happening in the market within the last six to twelve months. Get yourself on LinkedIn and other professional media sites and follow industry gurus and related sites. This will provide you with enough material to talk about multiple topics, instil confidence and encourage you to talk comfortably to people outside of your industry and comfort zone.
Ask interesting questions
Attend networking events to learn about the challenges businesses are facing, and what sort of solutions have worked for them. This information will most likely come handy on other occasions. My most recent event took place last week where I really enjoyed learning about what other HR managers are doing within their organisations. Most times, I sat back to let people tell me how their jobs were going, about the market situations and its effects, and what’s been the most exciting thing they were going to embark upon this year from a professional standpoint. I recommend being different to move away from the usual questions about what and where, instead you could ask, “what’s the most exciting thing you’ve done this year?” There were plenty of individuals there who are currently between jobs so it wasn’t the case of always having something to contribute, but there’s a lot to learn simply by listening.
The Balancing Act
There are different schools of thought that suggest you should attend all the events you get invited to and others that advocate concentrating on the ones that you believe add value. The answer to that lies with you. Are you receiving plenty of invites and thus have the opportunity to be selective, or do you feel the need to go out and build more contacts. Whatever you decide, I recommend making sure the events you pick are relevant to where you want your career to progress. That doesn’t mean you wouldn’t make a useful connection for a role in HR at a media event, but your time is valuable and should be spent wisely be it researching your next role, acquiring new qualifications or applying to relevant job openings. As mums, there are already enough items on your ever-growing to-do list, and you certainly don’t need the added stress of making it to every single event on the calendar. The truth is there isn’t a stipulated timeframe within which to find a new job, but knowing the market and understanding the hiring trends in the UAE will enable you to make sound professional decisions and prevent you from being disheartened should it take longer than you estimated. Keep your chin up and stay positive.
Don’t be hard on yourself
A colleague who’s recently returned from maternity leave said to me that it was a pleasant change for her to talk to someone who wasn’t her mum, whom she realised was on speed-dial for baby related questions. She craved interaction outside of her personal life and if that’s something you’re looking for too, events like this will definitely offer you that. It’s a bit like going for interviews to build up some practice, even when you’re not too keen on the job. Some events are more promising than others. Don’t expect too much and just aim to be yourself and have a good time. Anything that materialises from these events is a bonus.
ABOUT THE VEERA MARSHALL
Joining the Halian International team in 2016, Veera Marshall has over ten years of HR experience with a specialisation in performance management, employee relations, talent acquisition and organisation development. She has gained extensive experience in various industries including healthcare services, technology, aviation and hospitality. She has led change management and development programmes in a wide variety of organisations such as Cerner Corporation, Emirates Airlines, Kerzner International and Dubai World Trade Centre at all levels.
Veera holds a distinction award for her Master’s degree in International Human Resource Management from Coventry University, UK. and is a qualified Chartered MCIPD from The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), UK.