Your Personal Network
Leading up to the launch of the OUP Women’s Network, I reached out to any woman I could for a half hour coffee to ask what they would do if this network was their baby. This was going to be an employee-led initiative which meant it needed to be shaped by its employees, and back then I had very little to take my cues from. At this point I was only a month-old new starter and was still navigating what it meant to be a woman in the workforce, let alone a woman at OUP.
The discussions and support I saw in those initial meetings were not only incredibly insightful but pushed me to think bigger about what this initiative (and I!) could do. These women didn’t just shape the network, but shaped and directed my passion to make this network happen and make it the best it could be. Since the launch I’ve been welcomed to go back to them frequently, and I’ve never left the table without a million and one new ideas. Slowly I started to realise that I had found a personal network.
Having a personal network is imperative in achieving your goals, especially when you’re new to the workforce. Building this network does not come easy to a lot of people, the word itself triggers a lot of eye rolls, but don’t fret – you don’t need to be the life of the party to get yourself an A-Team. You just need to know what you want.
Find the ‘why’
Generally, it’s wise to set goals for your career but it’s even more important to have a ‘why’ when initially approaching new relationships. If people are willing to give up their time, you need to make the most of it. For me, it was Women’s Network, which fortunately was always going to be a great ice breaker in our current climate. However, this goal could be anything for a new starter, even something as simple as wanting a crash course on the organisational culture.
On your first day you’re not going to know anyone. On your second, maybe three or four. By the end of your first week you should have met a fair few core contacts for your professional network. This could be your manager; your team lead or even your peers. Once you’ve figured out your ‘why’, talk to these contacts about what you want to achieve. They should be able to direct you to people who they know will be interested in your cause and will be willing to help.
Listen more than you speak
Once you’re all set up for your blind meetings, find out exactly what you want to ask them. As I said, they’re using their time to help someone they’ve not met before, so come prepared! Once the conversation gets going, make sure you really listen to what these people are saying. The sooner you understand the company culture, the sooner you can work out how you can operate there. Take notes if the feeling’s right.
What can you do for each other?
Once you’ve got your initial answers, you need to create a pathway for an ongoing two-way relationship. You can’t only think about your own personal agenda when networking. The most effective way to securing trust and future collaboration is to find out what someone can do for you and what you can do for them. When you’re listening (carefully!), see if there is anything they’re working on that takes your interest and take note. You may be new, but a fresh perspective on certain projects can be incredibly useful for people.
There is no better way to close a connection than a simple email of thanks. Not only is it good manners, but this presents a great opportunity to suggest future collaboration, reiterating your commitment to the connection.
‘If there’s anything else that comes to mind, please don’t hesitate to get in touch!’
‘I was really interested in (project X), if there’s anything I can do to help, please let me know.’
Most importantly, it’s a chance to expand your network further. If it didn’t come up already, ask them if there’s anyone else they think you should get in touch with. With every meeting I had for Women’s Network, I left with at least three more names of women to talk to. Once you have those names, ask them if they would be so kind as to write an introductory email.