Networking: JUST DO IT
I remember precisely the day that I decided to get out of my comfort zone and ‘network’. I had signed up to an event, was petrified and had the draft email full of excuses as to why I couldn’t attend to prove it. I often felt insecure at events because I thought ‘who would want to network with an EA?’ and often through that my network wasn’t as useful or as valuable as those more senior to me. I couldn’t have been more wrong. When I was the Executive Officer to the British High Commissioner, we welcomed a ministerial visitor to Australian. No-one, not even the High Commissioner, could get him in front of the PM. I had worked hard to build rapport with his EA, including bonding over mindfulness apps at a networking event (see it’s worth it!), so with a couple of texts over a few hours, I had secured not only a meeting, but one that included a photo-op for social media and additional people in the room. I was personally thanked and commended. There is a clear example of why the EA-to-EA relationship is so important. From that first day of deciding to meet someone new, or just someone whose email address was very familiar, I haven’t looked back, and neither will you.
My network is incredibly important and I make sure every year that those who make up my network, both personally, internally and externally, feel appreciated and feel the love – remember that our network spreads further than just professional ones; your network includes the support system in your personal life that allows you to achieve big things. If you’re in my network, you will know that I nurture it; I suggest a catch-up during the year, pick up the phone to remind you that I still exist, and I don’t exploit our relationship – you wash my back, I’ll wash yours.
Building your brand as an EA, especially in Canberra, is crucial to a long, sustainable and rewarding career. EAs, like elephants, don’t forget a face….or a rude email, or a gruff phone call, or an EA that thinks that their you-know-what doesn’t stink. Along the path of discovering my network, understanding its importance and maintaining it each and every year, I feel I’ve learnt both what to do and what not to do! Networking itself is petrifying even for the most seasoned ‘networker’ but if we start small, take baby steps and ‘work the room’ within our network, we can create long-lasting professional relationships that will take us to places we never thought possible.
The tips I’m sharing below are tried and tested by me, a natural introvert who hates small talk! I’ve recently introduced the word ‘trial’ into my vocabulary to ensure I’m ticking every box in my role with Capital EA and testing the waters. I want you to ‘trial’ one of my tips and see how it feels. I bet you walk away feeling great and more confident, ready to pick up the phone, suggest a wine or invite a contact to an event.
How to build
* You have a head start, no matter how small your foundation: start a list of who you’d like to get to know, who you need a warmer relationship with, and who you should get to know to help your boss – yes, they might need an ‘in’ with someone and you might just know their EA. Then set small goals around getting to know these people within a particular timeframe.
* Take every opportunity to get out there: start small and go to as many things as you can – morning tea, staff meeting / presentation, a conference or in-house training course. Tip: networking events done straight after work, which line up with happy hour are a great starting point, because they are often more relaxed!
* Find contacts for right now and in the future: some contacts might be valuable now but don’t forget the ones that are sitting just outside of focus because as you grow in your role or
workplace, so will your approach, and so will who you want to connect with – plus that person sitting just out of focus may climb the ladder faster than you.
* Don’t exploit or use them up: don’t just think about what your contacts can do for you now and in the future, but rather, think about what you can do for them as well. It’s a two-way street. Bring contacts up with you, offer them an opportunity.
* Build rapport through different venues: you might learn or network one way, which might be the complete opposite to someone else. Don’t just think about what you prefer – reach out through different avenues. For your most valued contacts, find out their preferences – it will help you in the long run and could help avoid being the nagging phone call.
* Make sure you are visible – become the constant: it takes a lot of effort but being the ‘constant’ in your office can really pay off. A familiar face is more likely to be given a business card or asked a question by a senior contact. If your job doesn’t include meeting contacts at events, find your version – is there a regular meeting you can attend? Is there something your boss attends regularly with varying levels that you could shadow? It all helps. Make yourself visible not just in person: write a blog, attend a networking event, present or speak at an event. It makes connecting with contacts easier! Take every opportunity to put yourself out there. And finally, get yourself a business card.
* No-one likes to be forgotten: network with everyone – at an event you’re working on, this includes wait-staff, security and guests. Create a team around you. And always say thank you to those that have helped you – or make sure that your boss doesn’t miss anyone out. When you’re meeting someone again, remember something about them – have they recently holidayed, do they have children similar ages to yours?
* Learn how to network:
o Use “FORE”: Family, Occupation, Recreation and Education. Stick to this acronym (in no particular order) in a conversation with a new contact and you’ll avoid awkward silences. Example: ask what they do (O), what did they did on the weekend (R), this will tease out (F)amily. Something (O) leads to (E)ducation too.
o Practice makes perfect.
o Make a good impression: a bad reputation is very hard to reverse in the short term and your reputation reflects on your boss. We aren’t in high school anymore so make sure you avoid office politics and gossip. And inject your own personality into each relationship.