Research undertaken at INSEAD and reported in the Harvard Business Review in 2007 revealed that successful leaders have a nose for opportunity and a knack for knowing whom to tap to get things done. These qualities, it was disclosed, depend on a set of strategic networking skills that non-leaders rarely possess.
If you want to be a leader, networking is imperative. And even if you don't want to be a leader, but want to keep your job in the current climate, networking is a good idea.
The greatest peril of all is therefore not networking. However, accepting that networking is a good thing, there are a few things that you need to avoid if you want to maximise your efforts. And they are:
Don't think of it as a numbers game. Effective networkers think quality, not quantity. Building and nurturing meaningful relationships with 20 valuable and influential people pays bigger dividends than having 200 so-called 'friends' on a social networking site.
Don't schmooze the wrong room. Effective networkers know that being in the right room is what really matters. Meeting a friend in a coffee shop or bringing together some of your own network for an informal lunch, sharing goals, needs and wants and thinking about how you can each help one another often reaps more rewards than attending typical 'networking events'. Be genuinely interested in others and put and bring people together for mutual advantage.
Don't forget, it's about who knows you. Effective networkers recognise that it's not always about who you know. Being on the radar of those who influence your career is what counts. Volunteer for image and profile enhancing activities and influence those you want to reach.
Don't confuse importance with influence. Effective networkers know it's not always possible to connect directly with important people (eg senior managers), and that they aren't necessarily the most useful people. Instead, build relationships with influencers, such as PAs, who are easier to approach.
Don't just stay within your comfort zone. Effective networkers, like most people, can feel uncomfortable in unfamiliar surroundings, and/or when meeting others for the first time. Grasp such challenges and through careful preparation, watching and listening you will maximise opportunities as they arise.
Gwen Rhys is a networking specialist and founder of the Women in the City network.