Networking can help you professionally – but how do you succeed??
Photo: Kkgas / Stocksy United
Networking helps improve chances in the job market. Sounds like a truism, but it’s true. For the simple reason that many jobs are not filled through job advertisements, but through personal contacts. So it is better to make an early effort to build up one’s own network. Only: How exactly does it work?
If you want to dig your way through the jungle of coaching, advice books and tips for networking, you should bring some time with you. Do not have? No problem! We have collected answers to the most important questions.
Who or what am I actually doing this for?
It’s worth considering why you want to network. Those who are self-employed can build a broad customer base through successful networking. Others want to increase their visibility, get feedback or share experiences when looking for contacts. "The first step is: to become aware of your own goals," says network coach and author Monika Scheddin. Networkers should therefore ask themselves, especially at the beginning: Who am I?? What do I stand for? What are my topics – and what can I offer others??
Enlarge image Photo: Jurate Jablonskyte
Monika Scheddin founded the WOMAN’s Business Akademie GmbH and the WOMAN’s Business Club. She trains companies in communication, team building and qualitative networking and is a coach for the topics of success and work-life balance. On the subject of networking, she has written the book "Erfolgsstrategie Networking" (Allitera Verlag).
"Long-term networking is a matter of attitude and has nothing to do with the ‘hit, knock, run’ trigger mentality," Scheddin says. "Representing one’s own interests does not empower you to beat down your counterpart." Instead, it is a matter of being honest and authentic and putting one’s own product or concern on the back burner for the time being, he says.
"I always tell the participants in my course: you are only interesting if you are interested," says Scheddin. The boss notices when you’re just standing next to her at the party because you’re squinting at the advertised position. Even an investor quickly realizes, if it is only about the product of an aspiring founder – but who is not seriously interested in exchange. "It costs time and money to get to know a person – but long-term networking doesn’t work without this detour," says Scheddin.
How do I build up a network??
Once the goals are clearly defined, you should go to places where your contacts usually spend time: trade fairs, company parties or networking events. Even for contact on the Internet, you should look at which platforms the person predominantly moves on, for example on LinkedIn or Xing.
In general, it’s worth taking a cue from people who are on a similar career path or have already achieved their own goals. If you have inhibitions about approaching people, you might want to start small: "In training sessions, I often ask people to make one new contact per week and to maintain an existing one. It’s doable for everyone," Scheddin advises.
Enlarge image Photo: Susanne Fern
Kerstin Hoffmann works as a communications and strategy consultant, speaker and book author. She also runs the online magazine "PR-Doktor". Her current book: "Brand Ambassadors – Success with Corporate Influencers. Overview, strategy, practice, tools" (Haufe Verlag).
It helps to leave your own bubble again and again, even within your own company – and perhaps to have lunch once a week with colleagues from other departments. "Those who don’t cultivate contacts at work are often left out and learn important things last," says communications consultant and author Kerstin Hoffmann. That’s why it benefits both employers and employees to build internal communities that support each other – and to show that to the outside world as well.
Establishing contact: How do I appear?
Monika Scheddin’s tip for first contact: Maintain eye contact for at least three seconds, ask lots of questions – and always listen attentively. To a person whose lecture one has heard – for example at an event – one can say purposefully: "Above all the realization XY from your lecture impressed me, I noted that down immediately." Of course, this must also correspond to the truth.
Also important: pay attention to timing and introduce yourself briefly and crisply. If the person you want to talk to has been involved in a conversation for a while, Scheddin says you can stand there and at some point confidently interject: "You’re engrossed in a conversation, but I’d still like to ask you something. Would that be okay, or have I just committed my first faux pas?"If the person you are talking to is short of time, it might be more appropriate to say: "I would like to get to know you, but I notice that you are in a hurry. May I give you my business card, or could you give me yours??"
It is important to be able to assess the situation and to enter into the conversation openly, without being pushy. To appear confident, you can find out about the people you want to meet beforehand.
How to cultivate contacts?
At the last networking event, you made the first contact and pocketed your business card. Wonderful – and then? If you don’t hear anything the first time you follow up, don’t be disappointed or offended. Especially for people in higher positions or with a large network, mails or business cards can quickly get lost. Then it applies: Don’t be resentful, above all don’t be annoying – and only follow up if it really fits. Communications consultant Hoffmann recommends taking ten minutes a day, for example, to cultivate relationships. This can be a phone call, an appropriate post that you forward or a comment under a post.
How big should your network be??
"Networking is not about amassing masses of contacts," says Hoffmann. But rather: Strengthening the contacts you have – and preferably using them to get more. But here, too, it depends on your own intentions, says Hoffmann: "As a young professional, it can be worthwhile to first accept many contact requests and to expand your still small network."In the end, though, everyone has to figure out for themselves how to handle inquiries: some messages may be awkwardly worded, and yet the people in question later turn out to be good contacts. Others disqualify themselves because they want to sell something in the very first message. "If you accept a lot of contacts, you may have to check at some point whether they fit into your own network," says Hoffmann. What helps: once a month, scroll through all the contacts you have doubts about – and possibly sort them out.
"Those who always only contact me when they want something, I quickly unfollow," says Monika Scheddin. "However, it is important to draw polite and clear boundaries in the process."Scheddin has also clearly structured her network: The closest professional contacts form the "Inner Circle," which consists of about 20 people. "One chooses them consciously and contacts them once a quarter on special occasions with personal congratulations on a birthday or a suitable article."Immediately after that, there are around 200 active contacts: customers, ideal customers, suppliers, allies. The widest circle is a database consisting of 2000 contacts. It is important to evaluate all three circles again and again and, in case of doubt, to clean them out in order to maintain a clear view.
How to network on the web?
When networking on platforms, it’s not enough to send a contact request every now and then and applaud a new job change. If you want to start a conversation and find common ground, you should like, tag and comment – but always remain appreciative and attentive. "No one is helped if you tag someone under an article that has nothing to do with this topic or under which this person has already been tagged several times," says Scheddin. Kerstin Hoffmann says that inquiries that are immediately linked to a project are also clumsy.
If you’re unsure about the impact of your network presence, you can ask like-minded friends for advice. Because the language you use in postings should not only suit the platform, but also you. It’s also not always easy to find the right balance between professional and private: "Of course people are interested in private things, and on LinkedIn in particular, personal posts often do best," says Hoffmann. But that usually only works with people who already know what they stand for professionally. "Everyone should think carefully about where their own pain threshold lies in terms of what they want to reveal about themselves."
Women and men network differently?
enlarge photo: Stefanie Kresse
Svenja Lassen is Managing Director Germany of the startup investor network primeCROWD. In 2020, she founded the Female Investors Network there for active as well as aspiring female business angels.
"Women are great networkers in their private lives. In the professional world, however, many still resist making use of contacts," says Svenja Lassen, founder of the Female Investors Network, which brings together female investors and founders. "I encourage every woman: don’t be afraid to ask for favors or offer help."The latter also often makes it easier to accept support: "I think it’s super nice what you’re offering me. What can I do for you in return?"
Are women-only networks at all beneficial when many men are still in influential positions? "Women among themselves can form a protected space: One establishes initial contacts with business partners or female investors who pursue similar goals, shares knowledge, exchanges ideas and becomes more confident in conversations."A survey of 110 top female managers from international companies also shows how helpful women’s networks can be: There, just under half said that all-female networks had been the spark to take on big projects or change companies for promotion.
Networking is all about taking and giving. So think carefully about what you hope to get out of your network and what you can offer in return. But: Whoever offers help should also really be able to provide it and keep it.
Don’t be afraid to ask for likes. Nevertheless you should bring along sensitivity for what one can ask for. Communicate intentions openly and transparently, without immediately with the door into the house fall.
The self-image should match the image of others. If you have doubts about how you come across in the network, you can look for a like-minded tandem partner.
In social networks, the following applies: interact with the people you want to get in touch with. Liking, tagging and commenting is desired, as long as you are appreciative and attentive when doing so. You should avoid standard requests – and instead appropriately justify why you want to network with the other person.
When making contact: preparation, timing, eye contact for at least three seconds – and ask, ask, ask.
Accept business cards at an event or requests on the net calmly more generously, even if it is not immediately clear whether the interests fit together. In return, however, you should always evaluate your own database and, if in doubt, draw clear boundaries.
Networking is all about seizing opportunities. That’s why Lassen also advises: "I never turn something down without recommending another woman from my network at the same time."It is always worthwhile to stand up for others: "Networking is like a relationship bank that you pay into. You never know when, but eventually it will come back."