Network to get work

It’s not what you know, but who you know (mostly…)

Cheesy slogans aside, being able to network is a skill that we have to teach our students, as well as be competent at ourselves. Meeting, connecting and maintaining professional relationships are just as important in the education world as they are in fields like business or finance. Networks can operate in several capacities:

  • Mentoring – identifying and working with more experienced colleagues in order to help our own professional development
  • Supporting – connecting with people in similar roles to share triumphs and challenges
  • Moving – using professional connections to seek new job opportunities or to find out more information about a potential employer
  • Recruiting – reaching out to other colleagues when trying to fill vacancies or build a new team

For some people, networking immediately brings to mind a large soulless function room filled with people who all seem to know each other (and you don’t) accompanied by muzak, stale canapes and low cost wine. Yes, these sorts of tragic networking events still happen, but the purpose of this blog is to give you some pointers on how to network, regardless of the situation.

  1. Have a purpose and set yourself a goal

You generally are not forced to sign up to a networking event so consider why a particular event has caught your eye. It may be that there is a great keynote speaker. Or perhaps it just happens to be at an exciting new venue you’ve been wanting to check out. Whatever it is, use this to set yourself a clear and specific goal. Eg

  • Meet 3 people who are working in my local school district and who are also teaching science
  • Find at least one person who is also in their first year as a principal
  • Ask at least 2 people if they are looking to work in a new school
  • See if there is another school who is also going through authorization in the next year

2. Prepare yourself for battle

Lots of people get nervous going into a room full of strangers and having to make small talk. A few key steps can help you feel a little more comfortable. Make sure you have a supply of business cards that are easily accessible. If you’re hoping to follow up and connect with people on LinkedIn, it’s a good idea to have your profile up to date! Have 2-4 conversation openers prepared. They don’t have to be anything fancy or particularly deep and meaningful but just a few thoughtful questions will help ease the nerves.

“So what brought you to this event this evening?”

“Hello, my name is__________ What’s your name?”

“What did you think of the keynote speaker tonight? I liked her point about….”

Or something more specific to the occasion eg “What texts have you chosen for your senior language classes?”

And if you forget someone’s name, just be honest about it! We all do, there is no need to make excuses about ‘being terrible with names’. Simple say, “I’m sorry, could you please tell me your name again.” There’s a good chance that they have forgotten yours…!

Keep in mind that if you approach someone to start a conversation, it’s very likely that person is grateful that you’ve gone up and talked to them! Prepare yourself to be an active conversationalist. If someone asks you a question, be a good partner and add a bit of detail to your answer. Follow up with a question of your own. Make eye contact, nod your head and smile. These are things that take minimal effort but have a great impact on generating a conversation.

3. Know your escape routes

I am sure we’ve all been there…stuck nodding your head while someone engages you in a 20 minute monologue about something which is of no interest or maybe is even offensive to you. When possible, use a break to say something as simple like “Thank you for chatting with me. I’m going to go and meet with a few other people.” There are also of course the age old excuses of needing a drink refill, looking for a napkin or needing the bathroom. Again, a simple “Thank you. Would you excuse me for a moment please” is a quick way to exit a conversation.

Remember that it is a networking event. People are supposed to mix and mingle rather than stay with the first person they happened to talk to as they walked in the door. Remind yourself of your goals for the event and keep working the room!

4. Follow through

The next day, or as soon as possible, reach out to the people you’ve connected with. A LinkedIn invitation that is accompanied by a message is quick and easy. Or follow up with a short email. If you’ve connected with someone who you really want to work with more, it’s important to build that relationship quickly.

5. Congratulate yourself!

You’ve done it! Surviving your first networking event is a cause for celebration. Remember, there will always be those moments that make you wonder why you attended. I am betting that they won’t be worse than my mate George who split his pants about 2 minutes into a major event and had to spend the rest of the evening strategically holding his briefcase to hide the damage. Reflect on whether you achieved your goals and then start thinking about your next event.

6. Get ready to do it again!

If you absolutely cannot bear the thought of networking at a ‘mingle’ type event, look for alternatives. Companies are getting better at organizing events that might include things like a gallery tour then panel discussion. You can also find events set up more like speed-dating nights where you are only talking one to one rather than in a large group of people. There are also online forum events where you can join and participate via forums posts and messaging without even having to show your face. Consider dipping your toe in the networking waters with events like these if you’re especially introverted.