Guest Comment: Out of work? Learn to network

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With the increasing use of online networking tools, a growing number of professionals are left wondering how to network in the "real world". Whilst the use of networking online has its advantages in today's workplace, learning to network effectively face to face is an invaluable tool in the financial services sector.

Networking can be one of the most powerful ways to build professional relationships, actively foster contacts and disseminate information. There are many proven, interactive techniques that assist firms and employees to achieve business success through the art of networking.

A successful network requires a mutual understanding from the start that it is both about what you can do for your contacts and what they can do for you. Building a network requires a commitment to helping other people. You must show a genuine concern and interest in others that will help build the credibility and trust which is the mainstay of establishing an effective network.

The development of a strong network requires making connections that will sustain more than a simple introduction. A successful relationship takes time and effort to build. Those connections, and the support required to maintain them, are the necessary ingredients to developing a network.

Tips on how to succeed

1. Develop good interpersonal skills, don't wait to be introduced and prepare a good self-introduction.

2. Build good communication skills, ask solid and relevant questions and remember to listen.

3. Try to identify other people's interests and then discuss and offer solutions.

4. Don't ask for, or expect payback.

5. Respect other people's time.

6. Follow up when promised.

What are the benefits of networking?

· Allows you to cross share initiatives and ideas.

· Develops a group of resources that you can refer to for advice, tips and knowledge.

· Expands your contact group.

· Puts your name "out there".

· Can result in leaving a good impression of you and your company.

Skills of good networking

Not sure where to begin? Follow these steps and you will be well on your way to expanding your network.

Planning: develop an action plan. Before attending an event or social outing, identify your objectives and how to go about achieving them. Ask yourself what your purpose is for networking and what you want to get out of it. Try to determine who will be there and their levels within the companies; focus on the CFO's, financial controllers, credit managers and regional managers.

Research: research various networking groups, associations and contacts to find out what will work for you. Ask colleagues in a similar role and use the internet.

Self promotion: promote yourself effectively. Remember that you have something to offer as well.

Communication: communicate effectively. Be articulate, concise, enthusiastic, honest and open. Remember to listen when engaged in conversation because it is critical to remember key points in conversations. Depending on your audience, tailor your comments to specific areas. The CFO of a business will be interested in different areas than the head of operations.

Circulate: don't just stand in one place. Speak with as many people as you can at a networking function. Establish the basics and arrange another time to have a more detailed discussion.

Treat everyone as equals: there is no real value in title or prestige alone. Value is in the information and support people can give, which often comes from surprising sources. A network is not a bureaucracy or a hierarchy; rather it is a level and fair playing field. The more people you are in contact with at all levels, the more opportunities/information you will be exposed to.

Commit: follow through on your commitments, both to yourself and others. Keep records to remember what you have committed to do.

Organisation: organise yourself. Collect cards from the contacts that you have made in order to remember important details. When you get back to work, act on the cards then write down your notes and try to map out all the information you have picked up. You might not remember them later in the day.

Teamwork: leverage off of one another. Both you and your new contacts can work together to achieve personal and professional goals.

Ryan Webster is a senior consultant, banking and financial services, at Robert Walters Brisbane.

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