The basis of professional networking is to create and maintain connections with people. Building and maintaining relationships with other professionals in your industry can lead to new job opportunities, industry insights, and collaborations. But for many people, networking can be an intimidating task. Where do you start? How do you make meaningful connections?
We begin forming such connections long before we kick start our careers – whether that’s with family, friends, or schoolmates. It doesn’t have to be scary, all we have to do is sharpen our skills a little.
Jehan Ara’s Networking Tips
Luckily for you, Jehan Ara sat down with us to share her own networking tips for professionals looking to expand their pool of connections. With years of successful networking under her belt, Jehan is well-equipped to offer advice on how to make meaningful connections and build lasting professional relationships.
Her insights and tips are based on real-world experience and can help professionals at any stage of their careers take their networking game to the next level!
Striking up a conversation with someone you don’t know, the fear of not fitting in, a lack of interest in the topic being discussed, etc. are all common apprehensions when it comes to networking. The pressure attached to networking is what creates so much fear regarding it.
In Pakistan, women in particular find themselves at a disadvantage in male-dominated industries. Based on research conducted by McKinsey & Co. only a quarter of professional women are motivated to build and maintain networks.
What Are Some Challenges You Faced along the Way in Your Career?
Having grown up in Hong Kong, I lacked the disadvantage some individuals may have when attempting to build a network of professionals within Pakistan. Moreover, the bigger challenge I faced at the beginning of my career was how to navigate male-dominated industries.
My first stint was at a shipping company where all the managers were men so naturally, feeling awkward became a regular thing for me. I didn’t know what it was that they were interested in and some of their jokes went above my head. However, I learnt early on that you ignore what you don’t understand and focus on the things you have in common.
I overcame this awkwardness by bringing up subjects that I knew they were interested in when I was with them and I gave them the distance they needed to talk about the things that they found interesting.
These are things you learn over time; you can’t expect yourself to have a handle on this from Day 1 of joining a company. Don’t let it phase you, as essential as it is to understand people, it is equally as important for you to maintain a distance you need for your own comfort.
What Are Some of Your Networking Tips for Professionals?
Where we are is a product of our own hard work as well as the people we’ve connected with, that have helped us create that path.
“When you’re talking to someone new it’s important to be interested in what they do – people love to talk about things that are important to them and they love to talk about themselves. That’s an easy way to create a relationship. So talk to people! All of this creates that relationship you may not already have.”
Build Your Knowledge Base
Be prepared – conduct research on the topics being covered as well as on who you want to network with. Part of this is also listening attentively to what experts have to say on the topic and reading up on relevant material. Doing so will also make you feel more confident and prepared as you approach individuals you want to network with.
Authenticity is an essential trait in both your professional and personal life – don’t pretend to be someone you’re not! People can tell when you are being insincere which works against you while creating connections. Avoid focusing on impressing people, rather focus on representing yourself well and authentically.
“Don’t be nervous about admitting to things that you don’t understand. When I didn’t understand something I made sure to question it, people are quite willing to share knowledge.”
Be Aware of Your Surroundings
Who is present and where you are should be the basis of what you say. Networking is not limited to the typical places – you could run into someone at a coffee shop that could turn out to be a more relevant connection than someone at a professional event. So keep your eyes and ears peeled in all social environments, who knows where your next connection may lie!
Don’t Only Reach Out to People When You Need Them
Maintaining a connection is as necessary as sparking one. Keep in touch by sending them emails or messages when you see something that they might potentially be interested in, or reminds you of them – be it a link to an article, a video on a relevant topic, or an event.
Choose Your Battles Wisely
Learning which battles to choose and when to back off is a useful skill for any professional. Don’t just disagree for the sake of disagreeing. At professional events, try to avoid topics like religion or politics as those tend to be more likely to cause friction and disagreements; stick to factual and professional topics.
Know How to Grow Your Network
When it comes to networking one must look at the bigger picture, how the connections you create can be of help 5, or 10 years down the line. This will help you expand your pool of connections beyond just those professionals who may be relevant to you at the current moment.
Understand the perspective that the other person is coming from and the role you can play in helping them. In doing so, you in turn create a network for yourself.
How Do You Create Connections in a Social Setting?
Here are some of Jehan Ara’s practical networking tips in order to create solid and lasting connections.
- Introduce yourself- creating a good first impression is pivotal
- Ask questions- people like seeing that you have a genuine interest in them
- Be friendly & approachable
- Create a commonality
- Explain what you do- clearly and concisely
- Exit gracefully- keep a business card or the like on hand before making a plan to keep in touch
Maybe it’s time we shift our perspectives and start thinking of ‘networking’ as just a conversation. Be yourself, you are more likely to have a strong impact!