Some people claim networking began with early cavemen getting together to coordinate attacks on mammoths. Its purpose may have changed a lot since then, but at its core are the same fundamentals – connecting and sharing information with people of similar interests.
These days, it is very easy to connect with people through various social media websites. Being connected, however, is different from being in a network. A network involves a two-way conversation, with both giving and receiving. This is especially important in an age where the amount of information grows exponentially every year.
“A good professional network should have both focus and quality,” says Ian Strutton, director of Experis Hong Kong, a member of the Manpower Group. “It’s about keeping in contact, reciprocating, sharing information and building long-term relationships.”
He says that when connecting with people, you should have a clear objective of what you want to achieve. Once connected, you should make the effort to seek the other person’s advice and opinions by asking relevant questions.
“People like to give advice and share their opinions, and these exchanges will help you to build productive relationships,” he says.
These conversations should be two-way. “You should offer to help and share information with your network. It’s important that you give and not only expect to gain something from your network. There are people who are always asking for something but never respond [when they are asked]. We call them hit-and-run networkers,” he says.
Don’t waste your time trying to connect with the wrong people. For example, there is often no point in connecting with someone so senior to yourself that you cannot have an educated conversation.
“Go for quality rather than quantity,” says Louisa Yeung, managing director for Hong Kong and Southern China at Michael Page. “Networking can be very powerful if you use it appropriately. If you overdo it, it can be damaging.”
She warns that professionals don’t trust “social butterflies” and that spending too much time on networking will, sooner or later, interfere with your job. She says that while in-depth relationships are valued, name-dropping and flaunting one’s social contacts are not.
“A network should help you do a better job. It is important not to network for the sake of networking,” Yeung says.
Many people have a much larger network than they realise. Fresh graduates, for example, have their family, their family’s network, friends and professional people they have met in everyday life.
In Hong Kong, social networks can often be used to unearth job opportunities.
“Having a good network can definitely help when you are searching for a job,” Strutton says. “Some jobs are not advertised in traditional ways. Successful networking helps you gain access to valuable information which can give you a competitive advantage.”
As students approach graduation and have to decide the field in which they want to work, they should try to expand their networks and their knowledge of different professions. When meeting professionals, they can politely ask for a little time to talk to them about what their job entails and how to get into the field. Internships also help to expand networks and knowledge of jobs and opportunities.
When looking for a job, you should put out your feelers, but avoid approaching network contacts too directly. “A more discrete and casual manner works better,” Yeung says.
Networking is also an excellent way for people new to Hong Kong to find peer groups and meet friends. They can join professional associations and attend functions in their field. To really stand out, they can present seminars or be on panels, and join discussion groups where they can add value.