If you want to improve your professional connections, it helps to start within your own organisation. Think of your entire network as an octopus - you don't just need one person who is your advocate, but numerous tentacles in different divisions, industries, and locations - because you never know what kind of work you could end up doing in your company (or as you move somewhere else). Here are our tips to make meaningful connections at work:
#1: Identify your tentacles
To identify the right person to network with, consider the following:
Who has power in your organisation? Who has influence over projects or decisions that will affect your team's work? Whose opinion is important for the future of your career?
Who works in a similar sector to you and could provide helpful insights into how things are done there?
Who shares a common background with you, whether it be school, university or industry experience? This is especially relevant if both of you are recent graduates from the same school (or even different schools) and have similar goals. If this is applicable to you and one of your connections at work (i.e., two new graduates), take advantage of this shared perspective! The two of them may be able to help each other out by sharing anecdotes about what they've already experienced since graduating. In addition, this connection may end up becoming a long-term relationship as they help each other navigate their careers through networking events and casual conversations over lunchtime.
Are there vendors, suppliers, clients and consultants that your company works with that can provide links with other employees
#2: Make intentional requests and be purposeful of your value
Being intentional and purposeful is a great way to get the information you need. Ask for specific details about what they are working on and how you can be of assistance.
For example, if you're trying to learn more about a new product in development, ask your coworker or manager if they have time for a quick chat so that you can better understand what is involved in the project and how they envision using it going forward - instead of simply asking them to tell you about working in product development. You might also ask how long they anticipate the project's ongoing and whether there's anything else after this one finishes up.
Don't make it seem like your only interest is their good side - you want them to see that asking them things won't mean they'll lose influence with their boss because of it or that you are only taking and not giving.
Organisations thrive when people have diverse knowledge, so use your own expertise to give perspective on projects that could mean time saved or giving the client an extra solution.
#3: Know that everyone has a full calendar
Whether you’re networking within your own organisation or with external contacts, respect the other person’s time. There are three simple steps you can take to ensure that you do this:
Be clear about what you want from the meeting.
Be clear about what you can offer in return.
Be clear about how and when you will follow up with them.
Remember that if someone is too busy to respond to you during this project, being courteous and understanding of that increases the likelihood they'll reach out to YOU in the next one.
#4: Find common ground
You don't have to be a close friend or family member to start a conversation, but you do need that initial spark. Common ground can be as simple as a shared interest in sports or TV shows. It can also be more specific, like having worked on the same type of project, attended the same school or church, or even just being from the same city or state. This simple act will help people feel more comfortable around each other and encourage them to engage in conversations about shared interests at work events or during coffee breaks.
Use your company's tools and resources. If you work for an organization that has social media platforms available for employees (such as Facebook groups), use these tools to get involved with others in your organization and learn about their passions from afar before meeting them face-to-face at one of your company events where there will be plenty of time to connect over similar interests!
#5: Practice genuine curiosity
The first thing to do is ask questions. Asking questions will help you get to know people better, while also allowing them to open up about their lives and interests. An easy way to start is by asking some open-ended questions: "Why did you decide to pursue this career?" or “What’s the most challenging or frustrating thing about your work?” You could also try asking more specific questions about their industry or company: "What has been most exciting for you at work recently? What are you looking forward to in the future?"
A good way to know what questions to ask is to keep up-to-date with recent news on the subject or look at LinkedIn groups/thought leaders.
These kinds of inquiries allow people to share their thoughts on a topic and provide insight into what they do every day, so it's important that these inquiries aren't too generic - otherwise, there will be no conversation! A good rule of thumb for asking great questions is: if someone already knows the answer, then don't bother asking it. Instead, focus on topics where both parties can learn more from each other.
#6: Put yourself out there!
As you can see, there are a few things to consider before you begin networking in your own organisation.
What is your goal? If your objective is simply to 'meet people', then it might be difficult for others to quickly figure out what value they could add to you or vice versa. You should have a clear idea of why and how someone else could help advance your career or business, and how they might benefit from working with you.
Who do I want to reach out to? It's important that the person(s) with whom you choose to network are those who will benefit from knowing each other—not just because they're in similar positions within the company but also because of shared interests and goals outside work (and perhaps even outside of work as well). It may be tempting at first glance at an org chart but resist focusing on individuals who seem 'high up' – instead go after those who share common ground with where your career aspirations lie (e.g., if health care policy is one such area then reach out directly via LinkedIn rather than through someone else's inbox). Besides, that'll help them connect dots later on down the road when needed too!
Speaking up more in meetings, participating in learning opportunities, or asking for high-visibility projects are great ways to make yourself known within your organisation!