Javier Guerra Vence is an alumna of Nobel International School Algarve and is currently studying Aeronautical Engineering at Imperial College London. This is his second monthly blog post for Globeducate.
Networking: Why it is vital and how to do it
One of the most important factors that have made humans the dominant species of our planet is the ability to work collaboratively. Without collaboration, it is much more difficult to achieve anything meaningful. As an individual, you are virtually meaningless, like a grain of sand in a desert. You are only exposed to a small reality and therefore have limited awareness. Connections will augment your views on the world enabling you to see more things and to visualise things from different perspectives, which will in turn help you achieve your objectives and create impact. By the end of this post, I hope to explain to you the importance of networking and give you some tips on doing it effectively.
Networking can be done in three levels: being aware of what people are doing, having interaction with people and making long term relations. By just being aware of what people are doing, you can gain inspiration and find out about new opportunities that might apply to you. As you can see, you don’t even need to interact a lot with people to benefit from networking, just by knowing them or having someone from your network knowing them you can already benefit. Going a level further and having personal interaction through group work or conversations allows you to gain more in-depth knowledge and work collaboratively with others. Personal interaction also sets the basis for building relationships which can result in long term collaboration such as favours, job recommendations and even the co-founding of companies.
I have benefited from each of the three levels of networking myself, without them I would not have achieved even half of my achievements. To give you an example of a Roadmap I have followed, I will provide the example of the path that leads me onto the sector of Strategy Consulting (Helping Businesses do strategic decisions). I discovered this sector during my first internship at a Private Equity fund. Here I was overwhelmed by the speed and ease of resolution of the investment director of the fund, and, one day, I asked him how he had managed to acquire such skills. He told me that his previous background was consulting and that working in such sector exposes you to a dynamic environment which is both challenging but extremely rewarding and completely shaped your way of working. I read about it and was interested, so I dived into LinkedIn to check what other people in my network had done to expose themselves to the sector. Here I discovered that an acquaintance of mine was part of the consulting society of our university (of which I was not aware of). I, therefore, decided to get in touch with him and apply to the consulting projects that the group offers. After carrying out several projects and developing a relationship with my contact, we were both able to progress in the society: him as president and me as vice-president. We also became close friends and are helping each other through the application processes to the world’s most prestigious consulting firms.
Having a good network is complicated and requires the consideration of many aspects. Ideally, your network has to be as wide as possible and you should strive to have a deep relationship with the people of your network. However, all cannot be done at the same time and so it is important to consider the trade-offs of having a wide network and little relationship with your contacts vs a narrow network and a tight relationship with each contact. You should also consider the advantages and disadvantages of having a sector and country-focused network compared to a network from all different backgrounds and sectors of expertise. Also, when developing tighter relationships, you should consider the “Network of your network” as well as personal fit. The only clear thing is that you need to strive to connect with the most talented and willing people you can find!
My advice to you is to have at least one good connection in each sector and geography you can but to have more connections in the sectors and geographies of your interest. This ensures that you have the best talent and resources so you can become best suited to operating in such sectors and geographies effectively, yet making sure that you can leverage on the “Network of your Networks” to develop an effective contact book in another sector or geography which was not initially the priority if the need arises or your interests change. Also, in the subject of the depth of your relationships, I would recommend having a friendship circle of 7-10 people in your priority geography and sector to whom you speak weekly at least; a second inner circle of 15-20 people whom you speak monthly in different sectors of your interest and then a third circle of people whom you have met possibly once or twice or whom you have heard about from other contacts. This ensures that you have a deep relation with relevant people that can help you in your daily activities, a good relationship to those who share some of your passions and a relationship with a diverse pool of people whom you can contact if the need arises.
However, we still have not answered the question: How can we get a network?. The theoretical answer to this is simple: take part in stuff you are interested, perform well, show interest in people’s opinions and experience and find ways of keeping track of such people (i.e. Social Media). Some tips to do this in practice is to allocate a small fraction of your week to societies and events and to try and engage with the groups of people that you work with and that are in that event. You should try and reach out to those people you got on with the most or you feel we’re the most interesting after the event and try to find a way to keep their contact. To do this, I recommend the use of LinkedIn… everyone in an educational and corporate environment has it and uses it.
Another facet of networking is contacting people who you don’t know. You may need a favour or may want to ask them about the company they work in. This is always complicated, as first of all, you are not even guaranteed an answer. Also, you are not even sure to what extent the other person may be happy to answer to your message. After a while writing, Shyness might creep in and you may decide not to do it all together. My tips to do this is to find something in common with the person you are trying to target. Did you attend the same school, do you have a connection or group in common, do you operate in their sector?. Doing this will make you more familiar to the eyes of that person and will ensure a much higher response rate and quality of response. Whenever I need to contact a person of a particular profile I handpick it based on this. For example, if I don’t know a person from a particular firm that I am interested in working in, I either go to an event of the firm (online or on-campus) and exchange contacts with the presenter or I use LinkedIn filters to select a person which comes from my university and has connections in common. Something that I discovered lately is that there are talent groups like Nova Talent whereby you undergo a selection process to go in and once inside you have much more freedom to ask questions and find contacts in any subject. Being part of the same talent group gives you the right basis to ask questions to those who you don’t know based on being part of the same group. It is only recently that I have started using this technique, and it has helped me a lot.
To conclude this post, I would like to remind you that networking in all three levels is vital for collaboration and success and that it is, therefore, important to actively monitor and grow your network. To maintain and grow your network you should dedicate a small fraction of your weeks to engage in events or university societies and should aim to use LinkedIn and other talent platforms to keep contact and approach people you do not know. Hopefully, this will help you maintain and grow your network.