By Ranga Rajah
Special to SAF
Connecting and interacting has always helped and guided people to make the right choices. Right from choosing leisure activities, to getting leads about job opportunities, etc. The tools available for interacting have changed but networking, —a phrase used for the ‘who knows what and whom’ remains unchanged.
Anyhow, this magic word still holds the key to many of our problems and what can be more challenging than job hunting and career enhancement in a rapidly changing economy?
Before the birth of social networking sites, distant cousins, neighbours, family- friends used to connect us to opportunities including good educational institute, match making, etc. After one graduated from the university, people from that circle, would get paper cuttings with information about job opportunities or put us on to potential employers.
Things are different today, people across the globe are aided by technology—we have devices, tools and other facilities to connect digitally with, which help in finding jobs speedily and effectively.
Says Moshiur Rahman—Freelancer—Digital marketing Specialist, Toronto, that digital media helps in connecting and building identities—as in describing who you are. Email too is a digital tool but that does not speak out, it does not help us carve our personality he says. “Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and a combination of social networking devices help us in achieving all this.”
How to build this profile that stays in the digital archives and becomes accessible to people worldwide?
The first step is to create a digital resume or a bio-data. The main concern for any age group is employment, and in this digitized world, a strong online presence matters in order to be noticed by a prospective employer. The good thing is, these digital networking devices give a platform to express selves dynamically.
One among the many benefits of building an online profile is, employers most times go to social networking sites and look into an individual’s personality traits.
If you manage to get endorsements or referrals about your work and achievements from peers and other professionals consider them as bonuses.
Once the online presence is created the focus on networking should be sector based in order to achieve better results. Rahman advises to go to various organizations, search and connect with the movers and shakers of that particular sector. He says it is very important to try and keep up with what is going on in your industry/sector.
The actual work begins after the connection is made. That is the moment when one needs to know the fine art of networking. Because it is this skill that will help in maintaining the contacts one has made.
Donna Messer—owner ConnectUs Canada, also known as the networking queen says, skills required to be an effective networker include: being a good listener. being prepared with an introduction. Doing your homework before you attend the networking session. Use the words “How can I help you?”
In order to build your network, you need to find common ground. Taking the time to get to know the people in your network is of utmost importance. To keep your network strong, you must keep in touch, sharing resources and sources of information. To maintain those relationships—learn to give before you get.
A word of caution—the networker most times commits the mistake of thinking that networking is all about finding a job and employment alone. Messer says this misconception has to be cleared. “Networking is about building relationships. It isn’t all about referrals—unless those referrals are based on the knowledge you have of the person you are referring. Too many people gather business cards at events and suddenly they ‘know’ that person and use them as a trading card.”
The question that arises here is this—is there a ‘list’ or a group of people one should focus upon while networking?
Rahman and Messer say that there is no one ideal or master list of perfect people to network with. If you are looking for something specific—do your homework and find out what associations might have people within that sector. They could be retailers, manufacturers or even a service provider—the opportunities to meet that type of person is endless if you try and explore. In order to make most of this group Messer says to learn about them, find out when they meet and see if it is open to non-members. If it is—be prepared and know who is on the board, what their mandate might be and the most important thing to remember here is ‘how you could add value to them.’
What can be realistically expected out of networking? According to Messer, “I expect that there will be a benefit to both sides of the introduction. People who take my training are told to think “we not me”. Networking isn’t about what you can get out of an event. It’s about what you can put into it!”
Messer further adds that networking is the single most important tool anyone can have in their economic growth tool kit. It’s who you know, not what you know that will get you where you want to go. Building your database ethically and keeping in touch on a regular basis is the key to success.
Jim Geraghty: President, CEO—Happen, Executive/Professional Networking Group says, “Eighty per cent of our jobs, specially in senior positions are found by networking. There is a hidden job market and we specialize in accessing that hidden market.”
Happen members have access to various tools including online forum that helps them to connect with others. Geraghty adds that their focus is on face-to-face network. And that is where the weekly meetings in different locations (Mississauga, Burlington and Vancouver) come in. These meetings have special guest speakers from various sectors who talk on subjects connected to job search including how to use social media, handle interviews, etc. Happen also organizes special workshops on how to work with recruiters.
Networking has many layers to it and one of them is to know one’s weaknesses and strengths. Messer says recognizing her strengths and weakness is a key to her success. “For example, I could be a good baker, but I do not have any knowledge about legal matters. Therefore, it is advisable to hire a legal professional.”
Canada is a country of immigrants and most times/all the time, people expect to land a job of their choice the moment they get their landing papers. It is good to expect and have ambitions, but according to Firdaus Ali—Health Promotion Specialist, Heart and Stroke Foundation—it is also unrealistic.
Ali was a journalist in Bombay, India with Mid-Day, a daily (mid morning/day) newspaper but changed her profession when she came to Canada. Ali says it is very important to upgrade even if you take up part-time studies because you are switching your profession and getting into second career. And the first thing to do is to think if the career path you are planning to take will be a good fit for you or not. “Because if you upgrade and switch careers, without proper research it would be a folly.”
Networking according to Ali is another important tool for a newcomer. Ali shares her experience as a new comer and says she did go through the lows herself when she went about knocking on doors without realizing the importance of professional networking. There is a code to networking. It has to be done in a proper manner. One tends to go overboard and if you are new to the country, you tend to go to every event you are invited to. You have to create a balance in your networking routine. Know the key features why you want to network and learn the nuances on how to network.
Ali says it is good to remember networking is a large dimension, you should know what suits you. Explaining and finding out what you want to do is another key.
“I made a boundary and said I will not overdo the networking bit by spreading it too thin. You have to first know what you would like to do and in my opinion, follow your passion with a sense of business.”
Last but not the least, what and who you know definitely plays a huge role. Followed by how we network and what is our comfort level. For this reason, Messer says every school up from high school should have networking as a subject to learn.
TIPS TO REMEMBER WHILE NETWORKING:
1: Remember to invest your time for networking on a regular basis
2: Networking equals to future opportunities
3: Exchanging business cards alone is not networking
4: Remember to nurture and build your connections
5: Networking is not always about finding employment
6: Remember to ask what you can do to help
7: Remember to pass on any important leads to others in your group.
By Ranga Rajah