Extrovert or introvert?
The mention of professional networking may make some of you inwardly groan. Some of us thrive on doing a bit of social schmoozing, meeting new people and making contacts and acquaintances, but others of us prefer to work and socialise in our own established friendship groups. It’s certainly true that the idea of networking sits better with the extroverts among us than the introverts. Of course, there’s no right or wrong when it comes to different personality types – we are what we are, aren’t we? Is professional networking something we really need to do to future proof our careers as working mums in the legal profession then, or can we just let our quality of work and skills speak for themselves?
Preparation, preparation, preparation
As we’ve explored in previous blogs, one of the most important elements of successfully balancing a challenging law career with family life is preparation. And a big part of this preparation involves getting your career into a strong position before you take the plunge and start a family. Building resilient career foundations is a multi-pronged undertaking; you need to present yourself well, raise your profile by taking advantage of speaking, writing or training opportunities at work, make yourself memorable and ensure that your work and achievements are properly recognised. Your work may be exceptional, but that doesn’t matter if no one knows about it! Another vital element of this preparatory career consolidation, is – you’ve guessed it – professional networking.
A preventative measure
As this article shows “Progress towards gender equality in the legal sector remains ‘painfully slow’“. The prevailing culture often discriminates against working mums (whatever their skills or quality of work) with a lack of flexibility and working practices that encourage long hours, high pressure and presenteeism. One way of safeguarding your career against unsupportive managers or working environments later down the line is to have in place a solid network of law industry professionals and clients to fall back on. Remember, when the day comes that you might desperately need a supportive network, it might be too late to build one. For that reason – extroverts and introverts alike – it’s time to bite the bullet and get professional networking. If it sounds daunting, don’t worry, I’m here to ease you into the process. Approach it as a series of steps you can learn, practise and build on as you go along – you don’t need to transform yourself into a super schmoozer overnight (or indeed, at all)!
Here are my top tips for professional networking:
Make a record of new contacts.
Whenever you meet someone through professional networking, make an effort to remember their name! It sounds silly, but is probably the single most important factor in making a successful connection. Of course, we don’t really mind if someone forgets our names – we all know how easy it is to do, but remembering a name puts you in a much more favourable position from the off. So make the effort. If you’ve got a good memory, make a mental note – if not, write it down, or use your phone. There are numerous apps that can help with organising contact details better. I use Evernote. Tag the name with a location and event – and try to write something unique or special about the person to make the name more memorable.
Connect on an emotional level.
However much you may have in common professionally with a person, the best and most authentic connection to make is a personal, emotional one. If you know something special or interesting about a person, or share a common interest, it is much easier to remember each other and build a deeper relationship more quickly. I don’t mean intimate personal details of course – just a shared interest or passion – perhaps about a sport, a particular foreign destination or dogs! I call these Unique Connection Points (UCPs) and they can fast-track a superficial work contact into a more meaningful and valuable relationship.
You scratch their back..
Approach professional networking by thinking about what you might be able to do for your new contacts, rather than the other way round. Listen carefully when they talk, ask questions and try to discover what you might be able to do to be helpful to them. Make notes so that you can remember when the appropriate time arises.
Manage your relationships.
Track your new professional relationships as they develop. Record your meetings, what you discuss and follow-up actions. You can also remind yourself to stay in touch at regular intervals. You could use a relationship management system like Nimble or Capsule to help you do this.
A contact doesn’t become a relationship until you have met with the person in question anything from 3 to 7 times. It takes this long for real trust to build – and it’s only when you have authentic trust that you will see real value in that relationship. If you have only met once or twice, you will need to be proactive. If there is no opportunity for another encounter, create one! What’s to stop you calling a contact and inviting them for coffee? Or putting a date in the diary for a group of you to meet for breakfast? This is a great solution if you’re someone who doesn’t want to give up some of their own precious evenings to what feels like work.
As you can see, these steps should be manageable even for the introverts amongst us. Professional networking isn’t really about being a social butterfly or being out-going and gregarious, it’s mostly about being mindful when meeting others in your professional sphere. Be interested, listen, take note, be helpful – and most of all, be yourself! Don’t ask for or expect anything from your new contacts in return until you have been through these 5 steps. When the proper foundations are in place, you’ll know it’s the right time. Good luck with the networking. Let me know how you get on, and tune in to my podcast on the subject for more tips and advice.
Caroline Flanagan is a Keynote Speaker, Babyproof Coach and Author of Babyproof Your Career, The Secret to Balancing Work and Family so you can Enjoy It All. Caroline believes passionately in the dream of having it all, and founded Babyproof Your Life to train and prepare ambitious career women for the marathon of working parenthood so they can find their own way to #enjoyitall and #makeitwork. You can reach Caroline at firstname.lastname@example.org