Networking is integral to career progression, not just to encounter potential mentors at in-house hob-nobbing events, or putting out feelers to contacts when you feel the time is right to move jobs. Instead, it should be embedded in your day-to-day routine, multi-faceted and central to making your way up the career ladder. By 2020, it will be doubly important.
This is the conclusion of a new white paper by EY, which suggests that by the end of the decade professionals need to become more inter-connected with colleagues, competitors, friends and contacts while also balancing a realistic target of how many hours they will have to network. Here, it suggests, are the rules for networking from now until 2020.
Don’t use networking as quick fix to enhance your career – there’s nothing worse than a begging letter, simpering social climber or someone who sends out generic job-hunting letters to their entire LinkedIn network. Do embed it into your behaviour – like a regular fitness regime rather than a quick fix diet.
“Behaviours and competencies of the past are going to have to change... we are looking for people who have curiosity and a global outlook — people whose networks are wide, who understand that networking is the acquisition of knowledge and ideas, and whose knowledge is not just specialist but spans many disciplines,” said Gemma Lines, head of resourcing at Citi, EMEA, in the white paper.
Social media ranks third in the methods of networking that will be ultimately be beneficial for your career, behind meeting face-to-face and written communication. Humans are “hardwired to connect” and this is ultimately best done in person rather than behind a computer screen, suggests the research. “The ability to connect with another human, to develop trust, understanding, faith, belief, and a relationship — all drivers of both human capital and social capital — happen best face-to-face,” says the research. Aim for five in-person networking opportunities each week.
Networking can, ultimately, be an awkward scenario, particularly if you’re used to communicating with colleagues via email and friends via text message and Facebook. Stepping out and interacting with strangers can therefore be a daunting experience. Try to overcome this, and recognise if this is the reason stopping you expanding your network.
“I have also found that shyness is often a bigger obstacle than time. The Facebook age has made it more comfortable — and comforting — to be behind a screen. Even high achieving, apparently extrovert people find it difficult to get into the habit of initiating face-to-face encounters, often using time poverty as an avoidant excuse,” says the research.
Networking is viewed as something you should do, something that’s endorsed by your employer, but little thought is given to how, exactly, employees can use it for the benefit of their company and their career. It’s therefore important to deliberately develop your networking techniques, even if it involves leaving your comfort zone.
“Many companies send their employees off to make connections with a slap on the back and nothing else, and then managers wonder why employees often fall into familiar traps, such as relying on a narrow spectrum of people who are at their same level, from the same department or country, or whom they happen to like,” says the research. “High-performing employees, by contrast, routinely avoid such traps. Instead of allowing their networks to lean in one direction, high performers intentionally build connections with the goal of boosting their performance.”
In the microcosm of speed networking – something increasingly common and necessary in financial services – people try to assess the value of spending a small amount of time with an individual by analysing what they can offer them. This is a big mistake – offering something rather than being on the take will be more beneficial in the long-run. This simply involves “a focus on acting in the interests of others, such as by giving help, providing mentoring, sharing credit or making connections for others,” according to Adam Grant of Wharton School of Business, quoted in the EY research.
Social media encourages us to use a scatter-gun effect, to extend our network to thousands of often tenuous connections. In reality, the optimum number of social connections is a mere 150 people. Choose them wisely. “Give me the coffee house over the conference, the water cooler over the cocktail party,” says EY.
A company’s value will be increasingly judged on its ability to connect with “customers, suppliers and even competitors”, suggests the research and, of course, it will be down to the skills of the firm’s employees to develop these relationships. Don’t fall into the ‘marginalised talent’ category, which MIT Sloan Management Review defines as “low performers, technical experts and young professionals who are bent on proving their brilliance but who don’t realise they need to collaborate and build effective personal networks inside and outside their organization.”
The financial sector, despite harping on about diversity initiatives, is guiltier than other industries for being male dominated. Therefore, like the Old Boys Network, women have to carve out exclusive networking opportunities for themselves through so-called Stiletto Networks, suggests EY. These are a necessary evil that should be eradicated over time.
“I’d like us to get to a point where women’s only networks are no longer needed and initiatives like the 30% Club are going to help us get there. However, we aren’t there yet and I believe there’s still a compelling need for networking opportunities for women that still needs to be addressed,” said Liz Bingham, managing partner at EY, UK and Ireland.