Thursday 8 June 2017

How to Map your Network

I get that networking is important but I have no idea where to start? 

Most returners in this contemporary job market get the fact that networking is important. They realise that in this day and age, the majority of roles are filled directly from people’s networks and not from recruiters or adverts.  

But for many of you there may still be a mental block when it comes to approaching your network - or even recognising that you have a network! Particularly when you throw a career break into the mix, adding to the overall effect by magnifying fears and worries about who and how to use contacts to help. 

So let’s challenge some of the common assumptions that may be holding you back from thinking about how your network can help with your return to work.  

I don’t have a network anymore. 

I hear this a lot from women who have had a career break. In fact, we all have a network. It may be a different network than the one you had before your break, it may be a combination of old and new contacts and it might even be a better one than you had before! You might just not be thinking of it as a professional network or be assuming that those you spend time with now won’t have any useful professional contacts. 

I can’t ask people I know socially to help me with my job search. 

Would you help your friends if they asked you? We like helping other people. Remember you are not asking your friends for a job but simply for information or an introduction to someone in an area/organisation that interests you. It’s also a good way to begin practising your work story and re-engaging with the ‘professional’ you. A lot of leverage can come from a personal network, particularly after a career break. 

Remember “Six degrees of separation”? The trick with networking is tapping into your wider network – most opportunities come this way. This means multiplying your contacts and reach by accessing your network’s network. 

My current contacts won’t know anyone in my field of interest.

This is a common assumption, but you can't have total awareness of your network’s network. One returner's neighbour's brother turned out to be very senior in the sector she wanted to get into and was able to make an introduction. You don’t know who might know who ..

We often meet women who have known potentially-helpful contacts for years but yet never had a conversation about their professional selves. You could be sitting on dynamite contacts right in front of your nose!

How to Map your Network

Mapping your network helps you to think about who you know and to prioritise who to approach.
  1. Create some quiet space and time to brainstorm different areas of your life in which you have contacts who might be able to help you. Be creative and think broadly!
  2. Consider contacts in Past and Present, together with ideas on new contacts you could develop in the Future. Here are some groupings to get you started (adapted from the excellent book Back on the Career Track):
    1. Past: School, university, professional training, work (colleagues, clients, suppliers, alumni groups)
    2. Present: Family, friends, neighbours, sports, hobbies, volunteer contacts, religious and community contacts, professional bodies, school network  
    3. Future: Create local alumni network or job search group, volunteer, join an association
  3. Include all the people you know in each group. Make a rule not to rule people out. Remember to keep an open mind and approach it with curiosity – wouldn’t it be interesting to find out who people might know? Use LinkedIn to find people from your past and enlist others to remind you of people you may have forgotten about. 
  4. Map it out in a way that works for you – it might be a spider diagram, post-it notes on a large piece of paper or a spreadsheet. 
  5. Prioritise your 1st level contacts - those you will approach first - by creating relevant criteria such as: “Do they have relevant sector/function/technical knowledge?” “Do I think they will know a lot of other people who could help?” “Do I feel comfortable contacting this person early on?”   
  6. Then map out 2nd and 3rd level contacts – those you will approach later. John Lees' book Just the Job is helpful in explaining how to work out different levels of contacts. 
I've mapped my network. What now?
  1. Your primary goal is to use your network to make useful new contacts. Approach your 1st level contacts - tell them what type of work you're looking for, relating it to your interests, skills and experience before and during your break. Ask them if they know of anyone who might be able to offer you advice or to provide information on your area(s) of interest, and if they would be happy to make an introduction.
  2. With each new person you meet, ask at the end of the conversation if they could introduce you to anyone else who would be interesting to speak to.
  3. Create a system for tracking your progress and adding to the network as you expand your list of contacts. A spreadsheet works well at this point.  
  4. Reward your progress – it’s better to approach several useful contacts per week than to spend hours researching on the internet with no focus. Every time you set up a call, arrange a coffee or gain a new introduction reward yourself in some sort of way that’s meaningful for you – it will take time and effort but will be of great long-term benefit not only for your first role back but in terms of your ongoing career opportunities! 
Posted by Kate Mansfield, Lead Career Coach, Women Returners

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