There is some truth to the old adage, it's not what you know but who you know. Statistics tell us that networking is crucial for building professional relationships. But it can be challenging for the networking novice.
In the words of Veronica Ennett, Dalhousie Engineering and former ISIS colleague, ‘Networking is like vegetables, you may not want to eat them but you know they are good for you.”
For our local Connector Program, we have been experimenting with some network coaching and modelling techniques to help newcomers overcome their fears of chatting with strangers.
When we meet new connectees, we sometimes have to ‘sell’ the concept of networking to them. Besides making a match for a newcomer with a local industry professional, we insist that they develop a networking action plan. We provide links to some local networking sites and invite them to ‘shadow’ one of the connector team at business networking events.
While we have yet to formalize the process, essentially we begin introducing them to others and also have them watch how we break into small talk.We ask them to observe how we start up a conversation, ask for a business card and leave the conversation. We introduce them so they can say something about themselves, interacting with one person and then moving on to groups of three. The new networkers shadow our moves, weave their way into conversation and learn how to both listen and ask great questions.After a few practice rounds, they strike out on their own and come back with some feedback.
Working on this process is a little bit like learning a new dance. Initially we lead but only for a limited time to then give others the opportunity to lead and try out this new or rusty skill.
Post event we query them on their experience. Their confidence has already increased and many were keen to interact. At the end of the day networking helped these participants gain first-hand, current information and knowledge about their world of work and hopefully some new contacts to build their industry connections.
The second component of this modelling is what HRM Councillor Matt Whitman describes as reverse networking. So instead of finding a way to put forth your own value proposition or elevator speech, you partner up with another more seasoned networker who can say a few pertinent and flattering things about you. In turn, you will find opportunities to say nice things about the person you are standing beside. For example, if in the conversation anyone mentions IT, then I could work into the conversation that the new acquaintance beside me is a cracker jack IT developer. “He just landed in Halifax and I marvel at the breadth of his languages and coding,” I could say.
While we need to authentically put our best foot forward, Matt swears by this tag team approach that builds on generosity of spirit. Making the effort to meet new people and build face-to-face connections can be intimidating but can also lead to amazing opportunities.
Co-Authors: Denise De Long & Isaac Mbaziira
Denise is responsible for managing the Partnership's Connector Program which is funded under the Canada-Nova Scotia Labour Market Agreement.
Isaac Mbaziira is the Project Coordinator for the International Student stream of the Partnership's Connector Program.