September is a month of change and new beginnings. Invitations to conferences and networking events resume after the summer break. Students go back to school – some in new grades, others in new programmes and yet others are off to university. I was quite pleased to accept an invitation to give the key note address to recipients of BASF scholarships a few weeks ago. There they were young, very intelligent university students, bright-eyed and eager to succeed in their course of studies in preparation for the brave new professional world that they will face in a few years.
I spoke about the importance of networking and that it is necessary to start networking now and not wait until the final semester before graduation. My 15-minute presentation was based on three important facts –
- On average it takes 5 months to get a job in Canada. For senior white collar jobs, it is generally longer – anywhere between 6 months to a year.
- 70 – 80% of all jobs that people hold have been obtained through personal recommendations or referral.
- In 1994, it was estimated that the average person would change jobs around ten times in their lifetime. By the year 2000, it was estimated that the average person would change careers three to five times in their lifetime. And only God knows what the estimate is in 2012!
So what are these facts this telling us?
The ability to build a strong network of professional, community and social contacts is the key to getting a job and managing your career. Networking is the key to keeping the job and networking also is the key to making a career transition when the job is no longer there. The number and variety of people in your network play an important role in your ability to explore an expanded range of career options, shorten the duration of your job search and enrich and support the knowledge and skills you need to succeed in your career.
The BIG picture
No one should overestimate their education, professional experience and knowledge of any sector of the economy. This is because we live in an information age where technology has democratized information – anyone can access information through the internet easily and quickly and can use that information to innovate and invent new ways of doing business. On this point, I believe that many long-standing employees and seasoned professionals are still missing the mark by not building and maintaining a solid network of business contacts.
The way we do things, the products we own and services we use are in a constant state of change and always under the threat of obsolescence and innovation. Change and innovation force organizations to adopt new directions at the drop of a hat. When this happens, some jobs get abolished and the description of others becomes expanded, requiring broader skill sets. Knowledge and training also adapt to change. The knowledge anyone gains from a university degree, educational programme of any kind or on-the-job experience, could also different in another 5 years or less!
For me, networking is a necessary and integral component of my everyday life. Networking has opened me to sources of information on changing market trends, and yes, to emerging and new career opportunities. I have come to realize that in today’s world, people must learn how to be self-motivated, how to recognize opportunity in changing circumstances and develop skills in marketing themselves. We’re challenged in this economy to enhance our skills to make us flexible and ready to transfer from one career to another. This, in my view is the BIG picture.
A few important lessons I’ve learned about networking that I focus on:
- Inviting some of my connections to networking events helps to expand and enrich my network and the network of the people I invite to these events. It’s all about introducing people to other people and making useful connections.
- Preparing for each event makes it easier to connect with new people. Getting information on the general profile of participants or of specific participants beforehand helps me to identify potential topics for discussion, adjust my “elevator pitch” and set realistic expectations and goals for the number of people I expect to meet.
- Being willing to offer help by way of referrals, new contacts and information resources tends to lead to stronger and meaningful connections. When I focus the conversation on getting to know the other person and their interests usually leads to more productive discussions and interaction.
- Following up by connecting on social media, such as following on Twitter or commenting on blog posts, connecting on LinkedIn and other networks are essential for successful networking. Making notes on business cards on the person’s interests or expertise and sending an article or an invitation to an event that I believe the person would like help to support on-going contact.
A final word –
I’ve also learned not to be alarmed if some people don’t have time to talk or don’t respond to follow-up e-mails or calls. I believe that this is because many people are very focused on discovering their own talents and abilities or are trying to find their footing in their career. Then there are others who are self-aware, but are fully engaged and focused on being successful and so, they won’t have the time to network with people who they don’t perceive to be of valuable assistance or who can help them achieve their goals.
That said, I’ve learned that there’s always going to be a small but very important number of like-minded people who have much in common and want to network with each other. In this way, unfilled needs are uncovered in areas of interest and in emerging trends. Networking is one of the best ways for people to align their attention, time and talents with these unfilled needs and position themselves to take advantage of opportunities or create opportunities that lead to success.
See the BIG picture. Focus on what’s important.