Networking – a key strategy for success

Among the many terms related to finding work opportunities one hears nowadays, networking must be at the top of the list. Being able to network efficiently is considered a key strategy for both personal and professional success. Although the definition of professional networking will vary slightly, and the idea of personal and professional success will vary enormously, it is very unlikely that a person who is unable to establish connections will be able to find fruitful and stimulating opportunities.

With the 15th BRAZ-TESOL International Conference approaching, a few suggestions about networking might be useful. I don’t particularly agree with the popular phrase “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” as I believe consistent knowledge is the foundation of any productive professional relationship, but being informed, talented and experienced will not be enough if nobody knows you exist and is willing to share your expertise. There are several tips on how to network effectively available on the Internet. Here I list a few that you might find useful to make new connections or renew the ones you already have in conferences such as BRAZ-TESOL.

Working with existing connections

Tell your friends and business connections you are going to attend the conference. Tell them if you are presenting a paper and invite them to come. Advertise the conference on and offline by saying what it is about in case the people you know are unfamiliar with it. It is probably easier to begin with people you already know well and then contact those with whom you may have a more distant connection. Maybe one of your friends might introduce you to someone you would like to meet, so don’t be afraid to ask.

 Have business cards

It is easy and cheap to have business cards. Make them clear and simple. Specialists say that, despite the fact that we might work digitally, physical business cards are very unlikely to be replaced, or at least to be replaced soon. First, because they will cause a positive impression by showing you were prepared to meet new people, and being prepared is a characteristic of a good professional. Second, because only going digital can be too impersonal, thus less effective. This is what Jonathan Long, a contributor to the Entrepreneur magazine, says about business cards:

‘Networking is about making genuine connections. Sending contact information via text or email on the spot is convenient but it is also extremely impersonal. Engaging in eye contact and actual conversation is how real relationships begin.’

If you have a specific objective, consider getting in touch beforehand

If you know someone you are really interested in meeting for professional reasons, consider writing to them in advance introducing yourself and saying you are looking forward to listening to them and to meeting them in person. However, make sure you are brief and objective, and wait for the person to reply. The digital and globalized world we live in makes it really easy to contact people and it is not uncommon to hear stories of individuals who were, or at least felt they were, being stalked by strangers who asked all sorts of questions and favours, such as help to find a job, to solve language doubts, to translate articles and so on and so forth.

 Listen

When networking, just like in any other business or personal relationship, it is important to listen. If you ask a question or make a comment, focus on what the other person has to say. Networking, contrary to what some may think, is not about talking about your successes and qualities endlessly. Be receptive, pay attention and make eye contact. If you find out the person you are talking to is not someone you want to connect with, or if this person does not seem interested in connecting with you, excuse yourself politely and leave. There will be plenty of opportunities to network during the conference.

 Keep in touch

So you leave the conference renewed, have met a number of people, met old friends and made new ones and now have a number of business cards. When back home, do not wait for too long before contacting people. Use email or social media but also rely on face-to-face connections. If you see an article you think might be of interest to the people you have met, why not send it to them? When you plan to attend another conference, tell your connections about it and re-start the cycle.

Remember that making strong, meaningful and rewarding connections is not synonymous with meeting or impressing the main speakers. It is not only about what you can gain but also about what you can offer and how you can help. I guess this is true for any kind of relationship you might want to build, professional or personal.

 References:

5 reasons business cards still matter. https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/244406. Accessed on May 27th, 2016.

elainehodgson

Elaine Hodgson is a freelance teacher trainer and materials writer, as well as a supervisor on the Distance MA in TEFL at Birmingham University (UK). She holds an MA from UECE and a PhD from UFC in Applied Linguistics. You can read more about her work at https://www.elainehodgsonelt.com. Email: elainechaveshodgson@hotmail.com

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