3 things you need to know about networking

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Making the right contacts can help you find your dream job and boost your career.

For more great advice get a copy of YOU Careers, a handy guide for matrics and graduates – on sale now.

The ability to network is a skill some people seem to be born with. But don’t worry if it doesn’t come naturally – you can learn how to do it, career experts say. And it could be the key to helping you find your dream job.

1. It’s about building relationships

The thing to keep in mind is that it’s about more than simply making small talk with people and saving their numbers on your phone. Networking is about building relationships and, as with all relationship in life, you need to invest time and energy to reap the rewards.

“It’s all about forming meaningful, authentic connections with people, either in person or online,” says Celeste Stewart, director of Bold Curiosity, a learning and development consultancy.

“Networking is a very proactive way of finding a job instead of ‘waiting for the phone to ring’,” says Lorna O’Brien of O’Brien Recruitment in Cape Town. “People are wired to connect with one another and to help others.”

Take a close look at the people you already know, O’Brien says. “Write down a list of people who you consider to be part of your professional network – you may be surprised how long the list is.

“Also look at your social-media contacts, friends, family, people you studied with and the people you interact with,” she suggests.

2. Networks need to be maintained

Like any other relationship, it mustn’t be one-sided. “Share information with your network, help others when you’re in a position to do so, and ask questions and for advice,” O’Brien says.

It’s important to maintain contact with the people you’ve met, Stewart notes. “Reach out to people to have coffee with them.”

But be cautious about what you do in those sessions. It’s distasteful if new contacts get in touch “and try to sell me something”, Stewart says. “It’s the quickest way to put me off.”

3. Use, don’t abuse

Don’t think only about what you can get out of the network – you should also think about what you can offer it, experts say.

If you want to be noticed, you need to make an effort to share relevant and interesting information. “But there’s a fine line between oversharing and sharing enough to be noticed, so be circumspect about what you post in groups,” says Tamara Wolpert of Viv Gordon Placements.

“Asking someone if they have any kind of job for you is not the way to go,” O’Brien says. “As with any relationship, don’t abuse it. If it’s a contact you haven’t been in touch with for a while, take the time to slow down the communication and reconnect before jumping in and asking for a favour.”

Stewart warns that if you’re constantly using your network to ask for favours, those relationships are going to take strain. “Know the boundaries and stick within them – it’s called respect.”

For more on how to navigate the world of work, get your copy of YOU Careers. Aimed at matrics and graduates, it’s jampacked with practical advice on everything from finding the career that’s right for you and where to get bursaries to searching for jobs online and acing a job interview – all for R60! Available in stores or go to youstore.co.za to have it delivered.

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