On 2nd October 2013 ASPIRE was asked to deliver a workshop on networking to our HLF trainees. The Oxford University Museums and Botanic Gardens currently host 6 HLF trainees within our education departments. At the end of their 18 months with us, the trainees should have experienced ‘on the job’ work life as an education officer and also have a portfolio which will help them in the next steps of their career. As part of their training they have regular career development workshops, mostly around specific areas of education and community engagement, but also on professional skills such as networking and interviewing techniques.
University Museums Group Conference, 2013 (c) Oxford ASPIRE, University of Oxford
We kicked off the session by establishing between ourselves what we think networking is, and whether everyone felt that they currently did it well. We agreed that it was both making useful contacts and sharing information. To assess our current skill we took a quick quiz adapted from Power Networking by John Lockett.
Section 1 – Setting goals
Do you have a clear set of career goals in place?
Do you have productive meetings with others and make progress after each discussion?
Do you set yourself a clear objective for each meeting and clarify that with the other people in the discussion?
Section 2 – Identifying opportunities
Do you have a good knowledge of your contacts – their aims, aspirations and their contacts?
Do you have a good understanding of the key organisations and influential individuals in your profession?
Do you keep alert to opportunities to explain your goals and aspirations to other people? Are you alert to their interests?
Section 3 – Making initial connections
Do you introduce yourself clearly and without embarrassment?
Do you make an effort to talk to new people?
Do you emerge from meetings and conferences with a range of new contact and ideas?
Section 4 – Getting into discussions
Do you think your networking helps you to make progress in your work or career?
Do you feel able to be open about your goals and aspirations with other people?
Do you discuss with other people their own problems and help them to open up?
Section 5 – Following up
Do you keep a note of the contacts and the plans that you have made at a meeting?
Do you follow up contacts soon after the meeting?
Do you actively pursue leads suggested to you at the meeting?
Thoughts on current skill levels differed, with some feeling more confident than others. We recognised that while some people are natural networkers, it is a challenge for others, but that networking is a skill that can be learned. From here, the aim of the session was to focus on the practical elements of networking that can be learned to help everyone get the most out of networking opportunities.
Together we decided that although networking, like other social situations, can’t always be planned and that opportunities often come up unexpectedly, like with most things, it is useful to have clear goals as a guide. For example, at a big event it is useful to know the key people you would like to speak to and the messages you would like to get across. This is even more important in other situations, such as meetings, when you can build those goals into the invitation list and agenda.
A top tip for beginners was to observe how other people network at meetings or events, and see if they have a clear objective, and if so, how they are able to convey it to others.
Another skill in networking is identifying opportunities and then being proactive in approaching people. Together we identified some key opportunities for the group including conferences (such as GEM and BIG), events for teachers and community leaders, and meetings. We discussed the expense of some of the bigger conferences and the need to prioritise based on our goals, and to keep eyes peeled for free events, such as those offered by ASPIRE: key feedback we get from our events is that delegates really appreciate the opportunity to network with colleagues working in similar roles to them.
We also agreed that networking should not be limited to these kinds of clear opportunities, but that all of our professional engagement contains an element of networking, so it is important to keep you goals in mind and be open to unexpected opportunities.
University Museums Group Conference, 2013 (c) Oxford ASPIRE, University of Oxford
Making Initial Contact & Getting into Discussions
The next stage we discussed was making initial contact with people, either face to face of via email or phone. We agreed that while the latter can be easier, as you have a chance to prepare and review your thoughts, face to face networking was the most effective.
Approaching people at conferences and events can of course be intimidating, especially for those just starting out in their careers. We discussed how the trainees should not let this hinder them as everyone started from somewhere and everyone has good ideas; something I felt was particularly true of our trainees who have very interesting backgrounds from art to academia to journalism.
Strategies suggested by the group included asking someone you know for an introduction, and having some discussion points in mind: if you don’t have a specific reason for wanting to talk to someone, then pick some common ground, perhaps something related to the event. If you don’t have a particular person in mind, be strategic, and rather than targeting people who look already to be having in depth conversations, look for other people who look like they want to start something.
The same applied to email and phone contact, ensuring you mention the person who suggested you get in touch in the email, and the importance of making sure your initial contact has a clear purpose or outcome in order to prompt a response and ensure the conversation is two way.
We also spent a little bit of time discussing areas of caution. While it is certainly fine to talk about personal things, you need to gauge the character of the person before sharing anything too intimate. Also, it is important to be careful not to speak negatively about your place of employment, or other speakers or colleagues in the field. Even if they agree with you, your new contact may still remember you in a negative light based on the overall tone of the conversation.
We discussed the importance of not only investing time in making contacts, but of following up: contacts are of little value if you don’t nurture them. We discussed the importance of following up promptly if a discussion had a specific purpose of outcome. We recommended making sure you do your part of whatever was agreed, and then contact them with an outcome, which will reiterate you seriousness about the collaboration. If your initial contact did not have an immediate follow up, we agreed that it was still a good idea to get in touch within a week or so to cement the contact.
For these more nebulous contacts we also discussed staying in touch digitally, such as connecting on LinkedIn and Twitter. Twitter is particularly useful as it allows you to keep up to date with what the other person is doing, and get in touch if something relevant comes up.
On the back of this we closed our session with a general discussion on online identity, and making sure you are aware of what yours looks like and you control it. It is now completely normal for people to google new contacts (or job candidates) so it is a good idea to ensure that you both have a profile they can find, and make private any inappropriate content, especially on Facebook.
At the end of the day we decided on some top tips that would be useful to all of us going ahead:
- When you walk into the event, know why you’re there and what you’re hoping to get out of it.
- Walk in feeling positive: you’re there to have a good time and meet people.
- Wear your name badge if you have one; it might seem silly but you’ll appreciate the importance of it when you’ve met 75 people in an hour. Wear it on your right hand side to make it easy for people to see when you’re shaking hands.
- Practice your handshake: no limp fish, no bone crushers. Practice shaking hands, making eye contact and smiling. It’s simple, but an incredibly effective way to make a positive impression on people.
- The best way to approach someone at a networking function is simply to introduce yourself.
- A trick used by practised networkers is to say your first name twice and then your surname. (“I'm Sue. (pause) Sue Jones.”) This gives people time to absorb your name.
- When you are introduced to someone, repeat their name immediately (“Nice to meet you, Sue,”). It creates a positive impression and will help them to remember you and your name.
- Before you go, think about how to describe who you are or what you do in ten seconds or less. Make sure it’s clear and positive.
- When appropriate, offer a business card and ask the other person for one of his or hers. Sometimes it is more appropriate to exchange business cards when you leave one another.
- Once the event is over, your networking doesn't stop. Make sure to follow up with the people you've met, email them within a week to say you enjoyed meeting them. Add a detail about something that you spoke about to help them remember you, and offer to help in any way you can. Sending a personal thank you note is also a nice touch.