There are certain aspects of the executive job search that people often find difficult. Networking is one of these areas. We initially see many of our new clients struggling to network effectively and senior level job candidates often ask us for advice on this.
When we spoke with Andrew Ellis, Divisional Manager at Executive Headhunters, we asked him to share his ideas on how a candidate can improve their networking skills – even if they do see themselves as a more ‘quiet’ professional.
Tell us about your role as an Executive Headhunter…
I headhunt senior level personnel for business critical roles. This is my sixth year with Executive Headhunters and my first as a client-side Divisional Manager. I’ve worked for Executive Headhunters pretty much since leaving University and now find myself transferring from the Head of Research role to a brand new, exciting challenge picking up new business for the company. I decided to make the switch having had a taste of the client orientated side of our headhunting business. In my previous role as Head of Research I was very candidate orientated which gave me the pleasure of talking to a vast number of senior level individuals and, over the past five years, I feel I’ve probably encountered every type of candidate out there.
We find many senior level candidates struggle to network effectively; what networking tips can you offer?
I’ve dealt with the boldest extroverts to the shyest introverts and worked with them to help them land their dream roles. We always advise candidates to network at Executive Headhunters, but for some, putting themselves out there and talking to strangers can be quite a daunting prospect.
I’ve found that extroverts tend to take to networking naturally and will have more social media connections or followers and generally be more active in this area. Introverts, however, will often ask for advice and need more of a structured approach which I’ve been more than happy help with. From experience, individuals in Finance and IT roles are the most likely to talk to me about finding ways to increase networking efforts. Here are some tips I’ve given to this kind of candidate:
Set the tone.
If you worry about what to say in conversations, shift the onus on to your acquaintance by asking questions. This means you can relax and practice your listening skills – something you’re probably very good at. Showing a genuine interest in the person you’re talking to, will certainly make you one of the more memorable people in the room. When the topic of conversation eventually turns to you, talk about your career achievements and goals instead of your personal life. This will help you feel much more comfortable which, in turn, will show and make you more likeable.
Don’t assume others are confident.
It helps to understand that the person (or people) you’re speaking to will probably feel just as awkward as you do or they have done at some point in the past. The person you’re speaking to may appear confident enough, but they could be feeling just as uncomfortable as you. How would you know? Remember, you’re not alone in this situation and you can even make a joke about it as an effective and endearing ice-breaker.
Phone a friend.
Take your comfort zone with you by networking in pairs or even larger groups. Going to these events with someone you know can help you by bouncing conversations off each other and feeling supported if you start to feel stressed or uncomfortable. Tag your partner in if you’re struggling.
Quantify your efforts by setting achievable targets, for example, meeting with five new people every month. There won’t be a negative outcome from meeting people as it’s a numbers game. As soon as the first referral drops in your confidence will be sky high and you’ll wonder why you’ve only just started.
You don’t have to be perfect.
Introverts often drive themselves crazy over social situations that extroverts wouldn’t think twice about. There is no perfect way to interact with another human being and worrying excessively about it certainly isn’t going to help you. Realise that even bad meetings bring opportunities to learn and hone your approach so there really is no need to worry or overthink on every social encounter. People won’t remember what you say; they’ll remember how you made them feel. So be friendly, be helpful and don’t try to be perfect.
And finally… Smile 🙂
What better way to start a conversation? People will see you as more approachable and you’ll be the person that pops up in an acquaintance’s thoughts when they’re racking their brain for someone to refer – people remember a smile.
If you’re an introvert, embrace it. Introverts have very valuable qualities just like extroverts and have more room to improve from a networking perspective. Think about how much more successful you’ll be when you give it try – you might even enjoy it!
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