For many women transiting back to full time work and those starting out in their careers, the age-old advice of going to as many networking events as possible, to get to know as many people as possible, to keep the connections "alive", can sometimes exhaust the most active and sociable of people.
While studies have shown that the people skills used in networking does advance your career, another study has shown that it doesn't matter whether women network or not. Men are "destined" to succeed woman based on factors out of their control.
So, to network or not to network?
As an introverted woman, I am more than inclined to spend my evenings watching Blaze and the Monster Machines with my three year old. As someone whose entire career has been built on introductions, knowing how to network has been the most valuable skill I've learnt in my career.
The bottom line? Networking is incredibly important to everyone, whether you're a working woman or stay-home mom.
Need to find out more about an exciting opportunity at the company of your dreams? You'll probably stop by LinkedIn to find someone you know who works at that company. Want to plan meals for your family but don't know where to start? You're most likely going to talk to that friend at church who constantly posts about the home-cooked food she makes for her kids.
Just like what normal friends do, networking is about the building and maintaining of authentic personal relationships where both parties equally add value to each other's lives.
When relationships happen organically, it feels natural. But when it becomes 'organised', 'formalised' and 'professional', it suddenly becomes contrived, false and forced. It's no wonder why so many people avoid/hate/disparage professional business networking.
Hence, for women to make the most out of professional business networking, here are 3 mindset shifts we need to have before handing out that first business card.
1. There is no right or wrong way to network.
Some people prefer to speak one-on-one. Others prefer to address large groups. Some like quiet, intellectual conversations. Others love making people roar with laughter with their slapstick jokes. Whatever your choice of communication is, there isn't a right or wrong way. It all boils down to your personality.
If you're an introvert who is energised by spending time alone, you tend to like speaking one on one. You're curious about the other party, you're a great listener because you take time to reflect on what is being said. While you may not like to be in the limelight that much, you're happy to draw that out of somebody else - making you an all round great listener.
If you're an extrovert that thrives on being with lots of people at the same time, you'll be the life of the party. You'll be the one revving up the energy of the conversation, having multiple conversations with many people at the same time. Your passion, enthusiasm and drive make you absolutely fun to be with.
If networking is about being your authentic self, I see no reason for an introvert to model after an extrovert, or for women to try to network like men. I see a whole lot of reason being who you are and finding true connections that will accept you and appreciate your personal brand.
2. You're gardening, not hunting.
Think of all the differences between a gardener and a hunter.
The gardener thinks long term - she spends her time preparing the soil for the seeds, watering her plants, fertilising them with the right stuff, pruning the dead bits off and then looking forward to the day her garden brings her joy and happiness.
The hunter thinks short term - he's out for the kill in the quickest time possible. If he can't find his prey, he leaves as quickly as he came.
Unfortunately, networking is not a quick fix for immediate career/business success. Part of the equation includes time-bred trust and loyalty but if you are prepared for the long haul, carefully nurturing the relationships that matter, your payoff may be substantial.
3. Personal branding is not a dirty word.
A lot of women feel uncomfortable talking about themselves in a professional setting as social norms have made it awkward to do so.
To mitigate that, a lot of women end up asking a lot of questions but forgetting that a conversation goes two ways - while you can ask, you must share as well. Sharing also reduces the chances of you turning into an interrogator, firing one question after another and eventually running out of questions to ask.
There's always the risk of over-sharing and bragging but I've always found two rules to keep me in check - whatever I share must add value to the other party (learn something, be inspired, empathise, show support, etc) and I must ask another question after I'm done.
Life is made to be shared. Talk about your past experiences, your achievements and the journey behind them. Talk about your ideas and your thought process.
In communication, we call these personal branding statements, and there's nothing wrong with that. :)
As women, we have the innate ability to make friends anywhere and in any situation. Once we get the mindset of networking right, we can go forth and network - without the crazy pressure to perform up to (whose??) standards.
Have fun at your next networking session!
If you want to dip your toe into networking, here are 2 groups based in Singapore that have received great feedback on their networking sessions.
- The Athena Network | $ | Various locations | Women only
- Business Connections over Coffee | $ | Montana Brew Bar | Mixed