Athena Founder & CEO Coco Brown calls networking your “best bet for advancement,” whether you are rising into the C-Suite, eyeing the boardroom, or growing your own venture.
There is always room for growth and improvement, and it is essential to learn from those around you while also sharing your knowledge and expertise. Learning how to build your network takes time and finesse, but it is a crucial skill that will enrich your professional life.
Networking is no longer about attending an annual conference and handing your business card out to everyone you meet. You don’t want to make it into a speed-dating session that ends with most people tossing your card into a pile of other cards and forgetting your name by the end of the day.
The fundamental goal of networking should be to form genuine connections with people where you have something to offer each other. You want to focus on people who can help you advance your career, but you won’t know how someone can help unless you take the time to get to know them. Authentic relationships will lead to mutual respect, natural reciprocation, and beneficial exchanges.
Attending relevant industry events and seminars, getting involved with professional networking groups, and joining national organizations will help you meet new people and build a professional network. In addition, joining non-profit organizations in your sector is another way to expand your network because it puts you in the path of like-minded people with similar interests.
Sometimes, you may meet people outside of your typical professional circle who could be fantastic networking connections. For example, if you’re chatting on the ballfield with a parent from the other team and realize this person could be a great connection, don’t miss out on the opportunity. Don’t try to force it, but make it known that you have something to offer and do a little networking on the spot.
Growing your network does not always happen in professional settings, so keep an open mind and know when to step outside of the box to produce the type of network that will help you succeed.
Remember, networking goes both ways. When you skillfully navigate professional networking, you will be able to demonstrate a variety of interpersonal skills that will take you to the next level. Companies want to find and retain top executives who have the hard skills to do the job effectively and the soft skills needed to work well with board members, staff, and clients alike. Your dependability, organization, and empathy need to come across in your interactions just as much as your tangible professional skills.
When you’re meeting people, do not be afraid to confidently state your value. Athena Coach Tissa Richards suggests being prepared to succinctly state your value and journey in three sentences that make you stand out. What is the ‘so what’ about you? What value can you bring? You want to be specific and memorable.
In a Salon on intentional networking for Athena members, Tissa and fellow Athena Coach Nan Crawford suggested following up your value proposition by being the first in a relationship to ask “What are you working on?” and “How can I help you?” Ask if there is anyone in your network you can introduce them to. Show that you are being relational.
Consider how you can serve others, help them develop their skillset, or advance their careers.
Effective networking is about building authentic relationships, so finding ways to contribute to the relationship is essential.
It can be a little uncomfortable when someone contacts you after you haven’t spoken to them in years, especially if they are asking for a favor. True networking develops genuine connections that effortlessly develop into unique professional opportunities in the future.
When you first meet new connections, ensure that you follow up after a networking event. Let them know that you were glad to meet them and look forward to getting to know them or working with them—but be sincere.
You’re busy between your personal and professional life, and it can be hard to maintain relationships. However, occasionally reaching out can keep you in the back of someone’s mind and will let them know you care. Athena member Barbara Troupin recounts she used to set a reminder to follow up each year after meeting a new contact, but they had forgotten about her interest in boards by then.
“I needed to follow their companies and find organic ways to stay connected with CEOs and sitting board directors, like saying ‘congratulations on your recent fundraising round,’ ‘that was an interesting data release,’ etc.,” she said. “I would ping the board-focused recruiters in my industry every six months and find ways to stay in touch with CEOs and board members in my network multiple times a year.”
Reaching out can be as simple as sending them a quick email, text, or LinkedIn message to check-in. Your network will fall apart if you do not put in the effort to keep it strong.
There is no doubt that social media is influential in the business world, and leveraging it to reach new groups of people is important. LinkedIn was designed as a professional network and can be used to connect with people in your sector and strengthen your professional relationships. Other social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter are also effective at helping you engage with people in your field on a more personal level.
Building a solid network is essential to career growth. Athena Alliance membership pairs the most powerful network of the top women in business with the live and on-demand learning leaders need as they rise. Our Peer Groups are a great place to start building a strong professional network around common experiences and interests, such as sales and marketing, DEI leaders, and the Audit Committee of the board.
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