Networking; the mere mention of the word is enough to strike fear into the heart of many finance professionals. Perhaps we view it through a prism of insincerity; repeating to ourselves that finance is a technical role and hard work and ability will get me where I need to go. That’s increasingly not the case; with trends towards automation and robotisation, the future belongs to those finance leaders who can successfully build better relationships.
Don’t write yourself off as ‘not a natural networker’ - we can all get better in this crucial area. These skills are not taught in schools, so there’s lots of opportunity to improve and elevate yourself above the crowd.
Online networking is high on the agenda right now. For example, FP&A Trends Group has been holding many digital initiatives lately that provide an opportunity to meet like-minded professionals from all around the world. Whilst we have a lifetime’s experience of in-person networking, it can be less clear how we should connect with people online.
Below I share with you some simple tips on how to grow your network in the “home office” era.
Nurture your weak ties
Weak ties are people who we know but do not consider ourselves close to. These relationships are where the majority of your opportunity lies, as there are so many of them compared to close friends and family. Build your online network by first making a list of former colleagues you’re no longer in touch with, then connecting with them on social media. The depth of your ‘People you may have worked with’ list on LinkedIn will surprise you, don’t be shy in adding people. When leaving a company, people will often share their contact details to stay in touch, this is a great time to connect online. Similarly, it’s a natural time to add someone when you first interact with them at work. Put time aside for building your online network every day, one or two positive actions will compound into a much richer set of connections over time. Research by Gillian Sandstrom has shown that interaction with weak ties contributes positively to our overall wellbeing.
Build your network before you need it
Recently a former colleague reached out to me asking for some advice on a role that was being advertised. I could see from the message string that our last contact was one I’d sent to him six months ago that he’d not replied to. I was happy to help out, but it was clear he was only in touch with me because he wanted something; not a good way to build a bond. Maintaining your relationships before you need a favour makes it much easier to ask for one when you do. A good time to do this can be when someone moves to a new role such as a promotion or a change of company. In this case, try to be more personal with your message rather than just the standard ‘congratulations’. In the current climate of higher than usual redundancies in the financial sector, it’s a great time to interact with former colleagues that are currently out of work. Taking the time to show interest in people when they may be at a low point will not be forgotten.
Use the mere exposure effect to your advantage
This term was coined by psychologist Robert Zajonc and is also known as the familiarity effect. In essence it states that people will view you more favourably if they are familiar with you. Start small by interacting more with social media instead of just browsing; entering into discussions and posting original questions will make you more visible to your immediate network. The more connections and interactions you have, the more favourably you are viewed by the LinkedIn algorithm, so you’ll create a virtuous circle of engagement, which leads to your content being indexed higher. Attending online conferences is another good way to use this effect to your advantage virtually. Over time you can build to even more impactful actions; in finance there are often opportunities to write opinion articles or to speak at online events. Being brave enough to take these opportunities will massively increase your exposure and make people view you more favourably you as a result.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
A friend of mine recently took time out to plan a career change and before doing so he reached out to current and former colleagues for their advice. He was amazed at the positive responses he got; people were really willing to give up their time to help him. Of course, this is easier if you’ve already nurtured your network but in any case the cards are stacked in your favour here; the likely worst case here is that you get ignored; the best case is you meet someone who can really help you on your path.
Putting effort into networking can initially feel risky, but this is one area where we should seek to get out of our comfort zone. Small incremental changes today can build into much richer connections in the future. With the simple steps above you can start your journey to becoming a more smooth and natural networker. What one thing will you do to build your online network today?