Networking doesn’t come naturally to everyone – but it’s something that even the most reserved introvert can excel at when they use the right approach. Barbara Mackie, Career Development Manager at AGSM @ UNSW Business School shares her networking tips to help you accelerate your career.

For nearly 20 years, Barbara has helped university students and MBA candidates navigate the rules of engagement when it comes to career networking. And while there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, there are some core principles you can follow to give yourself the best chance for success.

The four Ps to network effectively

‘Networking’ can incite a feeling of discomfort in even the most confident extrovert. “There’s an awkwardness around networking and there doesn’t need to be,” says Barbara. “Networking is simply engaging in conversation with people. It’s no more complicated than that – but it can have vastly beneficial short- or long-term outcomes for building business relationships.”

Having a strategic approach to networking is the best way to go in feeling confident and increase the chance of productive conversations.

“At AGSM we like to talk about the four Ps: purpose, profile, positioning and presence,” says Barbara.

1. Purpose

One of the best opportunities to meet people is to attend industry or university events, where networking is an expected part of the program. Arm yourself with a plan and a purpose to get the most out of events, Barbara suggests.

Start by researching who will be attending.

“Before the event, find out about the types of people who will be there,” Barbara suggests. “If you can access the RSVP list even better, but don’t get your heart set on talking to just one person in case they don’t show up.”

Once you know who you’ll be talking to, get clear on what you want to achieve.

“This can help you create great conversations with people, and see what’s out there that is aligned with your purpose.”

The first course of the Master of Management program at AGSM @ UNSW Business School helps you do just that. Managing Yourself and Others helps you explore your values and career aspirations, and align them for a career that’s right for you.

A common concern Barbara hears from students is ‘what do I have to offer?’ when in a networking situation.. Don’t underestimate your value. “Just as you’re eager to progress your career, managers or business leaders will be on the lookout for high potential candidates who are smart, skilled and motivated.”

By shifting your mindset and seeing yourself as someone with knowledge and skills to offer, you can feel more confident in your approach to networking.

2. Profile

Creating a strong profile is important in networking, both in person and online.

“You need something to start the conversations. Think about what your story is, make it super simple. No more than two sentences – but enough to for others to connect with what you’re saying. Determine a couple of key career interests to pop into the conversation and be curious about the other person’s experience in these areas” Barbara says.

LinkedIn is a great way to connect with key people in your industry and build your network online.

“Make sure you’ve created a strong profile on LinkedIn, so people can easily understand who you are and what you’re about. Your profile needs to indicate what your interests are and tell your story.”

Barbara describes networking as a practice of elegance. And this goes for online networking as well. Think through your LinkedIn connection requests rather than simply clicking ‘Connect’.

“It’s all about being strategic, tailored and thoughtful when you’re trying to connect with someone,” she says.

“Don’t go straight for the CEO of Google. Pick your targets and be reasonable with who you approach,” she says. “A great place to start is with alumni a few years ahead of you. You immediately have common ground, and they’ve been in your position before.”

Craft a tailored message when you connect with someone on LinkedIn and include a brief explanation of why you’d like to connect. Leaving a connection request blank gives no context to the receiver and they’re less likely to accept your request.

3. Positioning

Going into an event with a strategic approach will help you make useful connections. Think about how you want to position yourself to meet your career goals.

“This is about saying the right things and talking to the right people for what you want to do next. If you want to shift career, don’t focus on your career history if you are keen to make a transition, take a future-oriented approach.”

For speaking about yourself and your own interests, come prepared with some key words to spark conversation.

“Whether it’s something you’ve recently read or been learning about, try to be specific about what makes you tick,” says Barbara. “It could be design thinking, solutions for global issues or drone technology and smart cities – as long as it’s something you can be enthusiastic about. Even if that person doesn’t know much about the subject, they might know someone who does and introduce you.”

Barbara says it’s vital to have an open mind when it comes to the work opportunities you are seeking. “Don’t limit yourself to focusing on a narrow set of roles at one company,” says Barbara. “When you’re open to conversations with people, you can find out about incredibly interesting functions or companies you may have never known exist. And this could open up new career ideas and pathways for you.”

4. Presence

To inspire an introduction, it’s important you come across in the best way possible. “If you are curious and engaging, you can make a great first impression and people will naturally want to help you.”

Think about the impressions you create and how you make people feel when you meet them for the first time. Barbara says simply being authentic and true to yourself will make you shine.

For AGSM students, Barbara and her team share event techniques such as breaking into a group, getting out of a group, getting out of a one-on-one conversations and how to move past the small talk and navigate to the deeper conversations more quickly.

“We also teach our students the importance of showing you’re listening to what the other person is saying, rather than focusing on what you will say next,” says Barbara. “Reflective listening – summarising what the other person has said throughout the conversation – is an effective way of showing you’re actively listening and interested in what the speaker has said. Let them know what insights you have gained from the conversation.”

And, when it comes to exiting a conversation, don’t make up an excuse like you need to go to the bathroom. “It’s perfectly fine not to stick with the same person all night. You can simply say ‘thank you so much, it was lovely to meet you. I’m going to move on and connect with a few others now.’”

AGSM’s Master of Management course is a great way to build your network. It also gives you access to the wealth of knowledge and experience of our educators, and our career development team.

Identified a new job and wondering if you’re the right cultural fit? Find out what potential employers are looking for in new hires and how you can align your values with your future workplace.

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