Whilst some people love the game of striking up acquaintances and sniffing for opportunities, the act of networking isn’t in itself interesting. What really matters is building a network that works for you. Here’s how you can do that.
1. Understand what networking really means
Think of a forest. A forest is more than a collection of individual trees — it’s a complex ecosystem that communicates, co-operates and shares nutrients.
Likewise, your career doesn’t have to be just about you. A successful career relies on successfully tapping into the collective intelligence of those around you and building reciprocal relationships based on mutual support and trust.
Your network is more than just awkward chats. It’s the powerful experience of having a community that opens doors for you — and provides you with support.
2. Find the right type of network for you
Traditional networking — attending an event — is bad news for inclusion and diversity, benefiting extroverts and people with flexible schedules.
Fortunately, there are far more networking formats available in government. Here are some other formats that might work better for you:
- Silo-busting communities of practice, such as the UK Civil Service Environment Network
- Curated online communities for public servants, like OneTeamGov
- Informal networks you build yourself through social media, inter-departmental activities, conferences or even your personal life
- Professional development networks for under-represented groups, such as Ontario Connect for black public servants in Canada
If nothing fits your needs and interests, you can also create your own network. Jenna Dutton shares her experience of creating the Women in Urbanism YYC network.
3. Build and benefit from your network
At some point, you’ll have to build the confidence and energy to create connections with people you don’t necessarily know.
How to do this depends on you. In a recent Q&A thread, public servants shared their experiences and advice on building networks in government.
But let’s get more specific. In this article, a seasoned government networker shares important tips. They are:
- Be present. Don’t play on your phone. Make it clear that you are solely interested in communicating with the person you have met.
- Take an active interest in what they do. Learn active listening skills. Move the conversation to a deeper level, and ask good questions.
- Think first about what you can give. Humans are hard-wired for reciprocity. Networking shouldn’t be just about extracting benefit from others.
- Think about your relationships as friendships. Networking relationships don’t have to be transactional. Whilst true friendships don’t scale, they are far more valuable than LinkedIn connections.
- Use the mirroring technique. Subtly imitating people’s words and mannerisms is a great way to build rapport.
- Always follow up and be specific in your note. A follow-up isn’t the same as an ask. It can just be a pleasant note. Make sure to include specific details relevant to the person you met.
- Make use of technology that enables virtual networking. And consider how you’ll have to adapt your networking style to suit online formats.
At the heart of all successful networking is empathy and the very human need for connection. As Maya Angelou said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
If you want to really dive into the profound challenge of building relationships in government, then watch this workshop recording on the lost art of connecting.
4. Remember that networking isn’t everything
“Not everything can be done through networking: one must be prepared technically to fulfil tasks duties and obligations to promote and implement transformations for the better good of citizens.”