Building a valuable network involves more than handing over a business card

The value of a wide network of peers, mentors and professional acquaintances is crucial on many levels. It can help you tap into industry knowledge, find your dream job, provide a source of referrals or build a business.

It’s precisely because a good network offers such commercial benefits, that many people make what I believe is a mistake in approaching networking in a purely opportunistic way. In my view, if your immediate motive for building a network is simply to tout for work or find a new job, there’s a more than an even chance that your efforts will be unsuccessful.

A valuable network is not something you can create overnight. Rather, networking takes time and effort to build and maintain. At the core, it’s about developing solid relationships based on trust and confidence. And that doesn’t happen after a handshake and a casual conversation. It happens over time by actively nurturing your contacts and demonstrating you genuinely want the relationship to be mutually beneficial. 

Here are a few things I’ve learnt about networking over the years.

Network when you least need to

The best time to network is long before you actually ‘need’ your network. If you’re at a career crossroad, it won’t work to suddenly launch a networking blitz if you’ve been passive in the past. Building a quality network happens gradually by building mutual trust and confidence. Positive benefits — like job opportunities, introductions,  and new clients — can certainly flow from a solid network.

Network for the right reasons

In my view, the best reason  for networking is to further your own learning and professional development. But your efforts must be recognised as authentic in the first place, so always make a quality and mutually beneficial relationship your focus.

Join a relevant professional association

To better position myself for a career in enterprise governance and risk, I also undertook Governance Institute’s Graduate Diploma of Applied Corporate Governance. Not only did I gain the technical training to perform confidently in my first enterprise risk management (ERM) role, I also found that participating in the Institute’s courses, masterclasses and other local events opened up opportunities to meet and get to know other professionals in comparable roles. The chance to share experiences and information with industry peers has been enormously beneficial. 

Over time, I have stepped up my involvement with Governance Institute. I’ve  helped develop course content and chaired various Institute forums. I’m on the NSW Council, the Corporate and Legal Issues Committee and I chair a Subject Advisory Committee. These activities have been very rewarding and have also helped  expand my network in a meaningful way.

Put in the time and effort — it’s worth it

Networking requires effort because it’s about establishing a mutually beneficial relationship.

If your contact is local, make it a point to catch up periodically for lunch or a coffee. If they are outside your local area, LinkedIn can be a useful tool, but try to make your interactions meaningful and personalised. A great network is a fantastic resource for governance and risk professionals at any stage in their career. Start laying the groundwork for yours and the personal professional rewards will flow in time.

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