How to build a network

It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Networking is a critical skill in today’s business world, but don’t expect instant results – patience and perseverance are required

The more useful contacts you accumulate as you progress in your professional career, the greater your chances of sustained success in the job market. It’s estimated that as many as 70% of jobs go unadvertised – making it imperative that your network is as wide and effective as possible.

Information gathering

Remember that networking aims for long-term results, and it’s as much about research as it is about self-publicity. So start by working out what you have to offer and how you are going to communicate that.

If you have an interest in a particular industry sector, find out as much as you can about it, so that you can hold your own when talking to useful contacts and appear up to speed on the latest developments. Get hold of job specifications for more senior finance positions in those sectors and learn what the requirements are.

It’s time to start networking. Recruitment consultancies are a good place to start, and always welcome the opportunity to add to their database of potential candidates. Many of them stage regular events where you can informally talk to them or even to their clients – employers – about employment prospects. These occasions are ideal for networking but it’s critical to identify the right (ie the most useful) people to talk to. Also research online forums where you can make contact with the kind of people who may be able to influence the direction of your career.

But you have the beginnings of a network already. Family members, friends, colleagues, ex-colleagues, fellow students, and tutors are rich sources of contacts – but you can only tap into them if you ask. Similarly, if you are a member of any sporting, hobby, or community groups, getting more actively involved gives you access to another fund of potential contacts.

Be patient

When meeting contacts – whether in person or online – taking an interest in them as people is much more likely to yield results than shamelessly pumping them for information.

Be courteous about what you want to know – for instance, ask them how they got to their present position or about their typical working day. But don’t monopolise their time – if you sense that you should move on, do just that.

You are unlikely to make a contact that offers you a job the next day. Keeping in touch appropriately is the secret of success. By all means, follow up with an email to thank them for their time. Keep a note for yourself of who you met, what you discussed, and how that contact may be of use in the future. Then diarise a suitable time to get back in touch.

"Research online forums where you can make contact with the kind of people who may be able to influence the direction of your career"