Terri Wingham, Founder & Executive Director of A Fresh Chapter, is back to talk about the power of “networking” and what that even means!
Networking is often a loaded word. As defined by Merriam-Webster, “Networking is the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions; specifically : the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business.”
Perhaps the idea of networking creates a vision of a smarmy salesperson with slicked back hair and a business card holder holstered to his hip? But, what if you could flip this concept on its head and use it as your secret weapon to exploring new opportunities in your life?
Prior to a breast cancer diagnosis in 2009, I was a Professional Recruiter – aka “Headhunter” in the technology industry in Vancouver. I managed a network of over 300 people and placed top level Project Managers, Business Analysts, and even CIOs into jobs within Vancouver. It was a sink or swim business and in order to be successful, I had to learn quickly to get over my fear of networking.
I had to create a new definition: Networking: the willingness to connect with new people for the purpose of better understanding their stories and helping them achieve their goals, while also finding mutually beneficial ways to work together.
When defined this way, I learned to approach new relationships in terms of what I could give rather than what I would get. However, in the beautifully karmic way of the universe, by focusing on helping others, it would always boomerang back to help me.
When treatment ended in 2011, I decided not to return to my recruiting roots and to, instead, embark on A Fresh Chapter in my life. Inspired by a volunteer trip to South Africa, I wanted to help other people impacted by cancer start fresh through volunteering and meaningful travel. The skills I learned in building a network have helped me transform an audacious dream into a sustainable reality.
How Can Networking Help You?
Networking can be applied to dating, travel, volunteering and so many other elements of your life, but today I want to focus on networking as a way to help you move forward with your career. Here are a few steps that have worked for me:
Step 1: Clarify your vision. As you prepare to meet new people, it’s important to be able to articulate your current state and your end goal. Where are you in your life and where are you hoping to go? Do you hope to better understand a new industry to see if it might be a fit for you? Do you know the exact type of job you want and just need to figure out how to get there?
Step 2: Brainstorm a list of the kind of people you’d like to meet. Are you looking to connect with hiring managers? Other people who work in a specific industry? Mentors from other industries who might be able to give you advice on how to approach a career shift or how to start building your career?
Step 3: Know “your ask” in case you have the opportunity to share it. Although you will be focusing on the people you meet more than on yourself, it’s important to know what it is that would help you get closer to your vision, in case someone offers to help. Is it an informational interview in a new industry? An introduction to someone in a specific company? Your ask will likely change depending on who you’re talking to and there will be some people with whom you don’t get to the ask until the third or fourth conversation.
Step 4: Practice with people you know. It can be unnerving to meet a stranger for coffee. So, start with the people already in your circle. Everyone has a network of friends, former colleagues, classmates, or sports teammates, etc. You don’t have to overcomplicate the invitation. It could be something as simple as, “Jo – I’d love to catch up over coffee and hear how you’re doing. It’s been too long.” That person doesn’t need to know that you’re practicing your networking skills, but it will get you out in the world and engaging with the network you already have.
Step 5: Be inquisitive. People love to talk about themselves. If you’re feeling nervous about talking about you, simply get them talking and pay attention to what they say. Are they talking about a challenge in their life that you might be able to relate to or you might know someone who could help them? Sincerely listen to them and they will feel connected to you. One of the best lessons in my life came from Dale Carnegie’s book, “How To Win Friends and Influence People”. “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”
Step 6: Ask for advice. As humans, we are wired to help. When the conversation does turn to you, don’t be afraid to ask for insight. “Actually, I’m thinking about making a change. I’m hoping to talk to people who know more about the ___________ industry. Any chance you have advice on where to start or any ideas of someone I should connect with?” Meeting strangers is as simple as an introduction from a friend. This is how you move from connecting with old friends to meeting new ones.
Step 7: Always, always follow up. Depending on the person, send an email or even better – write a handwritten card thanking the person for his or her time and mentioning something specific about them from your conversation. If you can think of a way to help them, follow through with that. They will remember you and want to return the favor one day.
When we switch our mindset to one of giving instead of getting, it takes the pressure off and helps us realize that networking is not about selling anything. It’s about connecting. As your network grows, you’ll find yourself in the wonderful position of being able to help make connections for other people. Somewhere along the way, an introduction to the right person at the right time will put you on the path to a brand new chapter in your life.
About Terri: Following treatment for breast cancer, Terri found herself grappling with unexpected feelings of isolation, fear of recurrence, survivor guilt, depression, and anger. Searching for something that would inspire her again, she signed up for a volunteer trip to Africa and the dream for A Fresh Chapter was born.