As a Business and Leadership Coach for women, I spend plenty of time enforcing good networking habits. A common problem I see is that too many believe that networking is about collecting cards and never reaching out to others. However, it isn’t that simple for many women. There are some that do not know how to network. It is also extremely difficult to balance work and family in addition to learning how to maintain professional relationships.

Professional relationships generate opportunity and outlets for career challenges and advancements. Most executive women attribute their success to professional connections. Studies have shown that many women have fewer ties than their male colleagues to help them towards advancement. Without these connections, it becomes very difficult for women to move out of career ruts, start businesses, or advance in the workplace. However, this is also where I believe coaching can become beneficial for women because we work through what is exactly keeping you from the making the connections that you need. I also emphasize relationship building as the best strategy for networking. Connections are more likely to build a long-term relationship and work with you towards your advancement or finding a new position.

The Challenges

Balancing work and home remain one of the biggest challenges for women. Especially for women who would like to maximize their time at work. Others harbor the fear that they will look like they are bragging or that it is inappropriate for seeking guidance from a male superior, even though it is likely that any executive above them will be male. There are now many organizations and corporate programs to help woman find higher-level executives to advocate for them in the workplace and to establish relationships with other women in their field.

Understanding the value of networking can be difficult or unclear to some as well.  In order to be successful, you cannot sit on the sidelines and bear witness to your own career. The biggest piece of advice I give my clients is to think of their careers as a car- you need to constantly maintain control of it. No one else is going to drive your car for you, are they? Don’t expect anyone else to control your career, either. Networking is merely a function to maintaining control, just as function in your car.

Women also do not ask for help because we see it as a sign of weakness. This is a big reason why men have an advantage over us. However, it does not mean that we cannot overcome our own actual weaknesses and turn them into strengths. Men may be more connected and have less of an issue asking for help and easily establishing connections but we can learn from them or have male allies, mentors, or coaches to work with us towards our development.

Ladies, please do not undercut yourselves and give yourselves more credit for your knowledge and accomplishments. This may be one of the biggest professional errors that we make because without a portrayal of confidence, why would anyone want to network with us or why would a potential employer be interested if we cannot confidently state that we are the right candidate for the position? I emphasize confidence in my coaching so my clients will learn to exemplify themselves this way in their careers and businesses.

Networking as an Introvert

Introverts also have more difficulty in networking than extroverts do. When I am coaching my clients on enhancing their networking skills, we do a lot of role playing. I often begin with ice breaker questions. Initiating these questions oftentimes allows the other person to open up and talk a bit about themselves. I’m always searching to build a mutually beneficial relationship. However, introverts can find social situations overwhelming. This is especially true of large events because they do not feel like they are at their best when connecting. I oftentimes tell my clients to split their time between networking online and in person. Also, feel free to bring a friend to an event. By doing so, it should feel less intimidating. Networking also can be done one-on-one instead of at a large event. This can be just as beneficial, especially if you are searching to establish a few strong connections. Doing so will provide an opportunity to show off your listening skills and ability to establish a solid connection. Lastly, here are some additional tips for introverts:

  • Establish your own networking events. Who says you can’t make your own fun? Put together your own event. No matter how large or how small, it is all about value.
  • Understand when you’re at your best. Network at your peak time. If you’re a morning or night person, find events accordingly or ask a connection to brunch or dinner.
  • Evaluate the probability of connecting. We have all seen events that cost a fortune and we’re unsure if we’re actually going to receive a benefit from them. Don’t do something just to do it- networking is about value, not about the amount of money you spend.
  • Regulate your schedule. My schedule is very important to me. I have a day for writing, a day to plan and focus on business-oriented tasks, and client days. I also have a networking group that I meet with on a regular basis. It is important to have dedicated time in your schedule to the tasks that are important to you.

Networking Like A Pro!

By understanding what works best for you, how and when you connect best, your chances for success increase. Here are some other tips to get you networking like a pro:

  • Do not forget about your old contacts. Send them an email to catch up with them on your situation- and theirs.
  • Schedule coffee dates and keep in touch regularly.
  • Follow up after an introduction. Send personalized emails and/ or add on LinkedIn with personalized invitations.
  • Prepare for your networking events by researching who will be there. You also can make a list of who you’d like to talk to and look up their work history, which will help with initiating and maintaining conversation.
  • Most importantly, don’t forget to smile and be yourself!

Photo Credit: itnoidaindia Flickr via Compfight cc

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