Gabriel Green is currently a Digital Marketing Apprentice at Christie's Education.
They say: “It’s not about what you know, it’s about who you know.” This seems to be associated with nepotism and in fact, this is not always the case. You are not networking with people in hope of employment, you are networking to gain valuable advice and first-hand experiences of career progression which will benefit your own pathway in the long run.
I’ve heard the phrase very often in my life, so I’ve always valued networking quite highly. This can be seen as negative as many people network with a fake smile just to increase numbers on LinkedIn or utilise opportunities from others, but making valuable connections is vital in your career progression. It is mainly about what you know but it’s still important to get noticed for all the right reasons inside and outside your organisation.
Why is networking important?
One of the WhiteHat values is to give everyone a level playing field and networking gives you the opportunity to get noticed and gain advice to help you catch up with people who may have started higher up on the career ladder.
Making connections with people is an important step for your professional and personal development, and not just empty LinkedIn connections, but valuable contacts who you can work with as you move forward in your career, possibly even mentors.
Don’t be nervous!
Lots of people don’t like the idea of having to network, especially people that don’t see themselves as being extroverted enough to just strike up random conversations with people they don’t know. But a lot of that bad rep doesn’t apply with internal networking where you already have an ‘in’ and plenty of organic conversation starters. Internal networking allows you to reach out to people you already have things in common with. Start with discussing the common ground. This is a great conversation starter to break the ice. There is no need to be nervous when talking to people, everyone is on a level playing field when networking with others. Most people are happy to talk about themselves as it doesn’t take much brain power. It’s easy for them to relay a brief story of their working life and career development and that is really useful information for you.You can learn from these people and gain valuable advice for your own career pathway.
Are you in the right environment?
I am fortunate enough to study on my apprenticeship program at the biggest auction house in the World. This has given me the opportunity to reach out to business professionals who have plenty of experience and advice. If you are not at a big company, it may be easier for you to communicate with more senior and experienced members of staff.
My personal networking experience at Christie’s
I personally reached out to Emily, the Tours and Exhibitions Manager and Ted, the Online Program Director. I spoke to my immediate working team and the PR manager, with whom I work closely, suggested Emily who was previously working in PR but then transferred to Tours and Exhibitions. I knew that Emily would have an interesting story about career progression and valuable advice for me about moving job roles internally at Christie’s. I had spoken to Ted before, and worked with him on Online promotion so I had a base to work up from. I knew that Ted used to be in marketing so I was interested in how he has progressed to a completely different role in programme direction, this information is great for someone like myself who is currently in marketing but may want to transfer to another field in the future.
Opening the conversation
I drafted a formal yet friendly email to both Emily and Ted separately to start a conversation. When opening the conversation, start by outlining who you are and what team you work in. It would also be good to remind them if you’ve worked on a project together before or if they would’ve seen any work you’d done internally previously.
Once the conversation has started, be proactive and organise a meeting. We’re not talking about an hour long meeting in a boardroom, it’s better just to go for a coffee. Unfortunately with the current situation, going for a coffee is hard to do at the moment. Working from home isn’t an excuse to avoid internal networking, you can still have a coffee from the comfort of your own home and schedule a Zoom call or Google Hangout.
When I reached out to Emily and Ted, we were living in a pre-lockdown world and so we could meet face to face. Face to face is definitely a better way to communicate, especially with someone you haven’t met before but a digital conversation is also great. Remember, these people don’t need to go out of their way too much as you work in the same building. If you have an internal cafe, food court or breakout room in your office building then great, but if not, the nearest Pret or Caffè Nero is fine. Booking a meeting room for a casual chat may be a bit too formal so opt for something more relaxed.
What questions should I ask?
It’s best to start off with an introduction about yourself and then ask them to do the same.
Begin with explaining your job role and how long you have been at the company. Ask a question about their job role, such as ‘what does it entail?’ or ‘how long have you been working in that role?’.
A great follow-up question is to ask whether/where they trained or studied or how they found themselves in the industry. Understanding other people’s career development is important for young people, especially apprentices, to hear about. Listening to these real-life experiences is vital in shaping your own life and pathway.
I found out that both Ted and Emily studied something completely different to what they’ve ended up doing as a job. This is yet more proof that what you study when you’re younger doesn’t mean you stick with it for the rest of your life.
This is one of the reasons why I opted to do an apprenticeship. I have learnt transferable business skills and gained valuable working experience, which is great for any job role I want to pursue. Career transitions will be easier for me now that I have this transferable knowledge and experience in the workplace.
What I learned from internal networking
Both Ted and Emily taught me, by sharing their own experiences, that career transitions are important and you should always take opportunities. It’s great advice because if you don’t take risks in life you take the risk of limiting your progression.
Building your visibility with senior stakeholders
Increasing your visibility within a business is vital, it’s always good to speak out in meetings with your own ideas. But it can be daunting because you might be worried what more senior members of staff think about your ideas. So building relationships with senior staff makes you more at ease with them, and makes you realise everyone’s on your side. Showing people across the business what you’re capable of, especially in an entry level, increases your chances of progressing in a company.
Always finish your conversation by asking if you can put some more time in the diary to catch up. Remember, this person isn’t just someone you’ve met anymore, they’ve become a valuable contact. Now if you come up against an obstacle that is similar to something they faced, you can reach out to them for advice. It could also be a good idea to offer to help out with any project they’re working on. Maybe you could work in collaboration or gain some extra experience by shadowing what they do? Utilise this contact, because you’ve earned it.
Send a formal yet friendly email to them
Organise a meeting (face-to-face preferably)
Introduce who you are and what you do
Ask who they are and what they do
Ask how they ended up doing what they do
What did they originally study?
Ask for advice
Ask if you can meet again in the future
As we all know, the business world is big, busy and bustling, so stand-out as best you can and network where possible. Whether it is a coffee over Zoom, or a conversation in a breakout room, always remember to be proactive.
Are you interested in networking? Be sure to check out our 'Ask an Expert' discussion thread, where you can ask Alice McDonnell anything you'd like to know about networking - from tips and practical advice!