As a third sector job seeker you have probably been told to “network” to develop your experience and contacts.
Networking may feel uncomfortable. Images of a room of people ‘selling’ themselves - swapping business cards with fixed grins on their faces – float before you. Not in line with the values that led you to the third sector in the first place!
But powerful networking is not remotely fake. It is about listening to people, helping them and creating connections.
In fact, it is so natural for human beings to network, that you have been doing it for years without even realising. Meeting people, helping them, introducing them to one another… you have done that since you were at school. And if you’ve ever connected with someone on social media, you are a born networker.
Human beings thrive when we connect, and we improve our mental health when we help others. But how do you turn this into something that helps your career without getting out of tune?
Start with Your Friends and Family.
Sometimes we are not even aware of the links our connections already have. Telling your friends what you are seeking can prompt them to reveal these contacts (places they have volunteered, friends who work for charities you’d love to work in too) and introduce you.
Attend a Course.
Your past or future classmates and tutors are often an excellent source of connections and advice. This is especially so for directly relevant courses like Charity Finance and Management at London South Bank University or International Development at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), but can apply to any long or short course you have attended or plan to attend.
Apply to a Career Development Programme
Programmes are springing up to develop leaders in charities and social enterprises at any stage of your career. Alumni from charity graduate programme, Charityworks, social enterprise leadership development programme, On Purpose and Encore Futures which builds bridges for those with 20 years experience to a charity volunteer or paid role all talk warmly about the power of the network they build.
Use Social Media
LinkedIn groups are a great place to ask questions, make contacts and develop a reputation by participating. For UK charity roles Charity UK, Careers in the Charity/Nonprofit sector, London Young Charity Professionals and I Am Networking are some of the best groups to join.
Twitter is good for researching and connecting with individuals and organisations that might not respond to an email. Follow them, retweet and reply, especially to the tweets you genuinely like. Then send a direct message and they will remember your name and be more likely to respond.
Formal Charity Networking Events
Despite the reputation, friendly networking events are worthwhile. Try I Am Networking or London Young Charity Professionals. Both have people to welcome you and introduce you to other guests.
Phoning or Emailing
Why beat around the bush? If there is someone you want to talk to, try contacting them directly. I once wrote a list of 100 well-known people I was certain would never reply to me. I set myself a target of getting just 1 person to engage with me. The first person I emailed replied, and my success rate was actually 50%.
Remember, networking is natural. The more you consciously connect, and ask for what you want, the more you will achieve. Network at your kids’ school, your workplace, at the gym, everywhere… It’s a powerful way to change the world.
Devi Clark. Director at NewLeaf Coaching and Consulting, Author of forthcoming book The Outsiders Manifesto: the Journey from Misfit to Pioneer