Practical advice on work issues
A lot of people shy away from networking, thinking it is naff and all about self- promotion. However, there are many benefits to networking, whether it’s formal or informal. It’s a great way to make contact with other professionals, share ideas and best practice, and refresh your own thinking. All of this helps you move your career forward and develop new skills. It can also lead to new work opportunities.
1 Sign up
Networking can happen anywhere – in the pub or canteen, at training, during conferences, or at specific networking events. Networking will take place wherever the opportunity presents itself. Consider signing up to a social care network. Ask colleagues, search the web and trade magazines and contact industry bodies to find one.
One network Fiona Addison, knowledge development officer at Sheffield Council, belongs to is the Social Care Institute for Excellence’s practice partners’ network. This is made up of 26 statutory and voluntary organisations from across the social care sector and Addison finds it very valuable. “It offers lots of opportunities for networking with people with similar jobs and is very useful,” she says. “We get to share ideas and knowledge.”
However don’t feel you have to limit yourself to social care networks. There are lots of good management networks, particularly useful if you are trying to move your career up a notch.
2 What can networking do for you?
Before you start looking for particular networks, think about what you want to achieve. Addison finds her network a great way of developing practice ideas and hearing about what counterparts at other local authorities are doing. “It’s really good for finding out new, innovative practice,” she says. “It is a fabulous way of developing ideas from other local authorities.”
Make sure you get a good sense of what the network is for, who belongs to it and how it operates before you join.
Networks are all about links with other people. Consult, keep in touch with others in the network and be proactive. It’s best not to be pushy, so keep it friendly and relaxed. “A key thing about networking is informality,” says Addison. If she is considering introducing a new way of working or amending policy and needs advice, she often consults her network to find out what they have done. “We have an e-mail list. At the touch of a button I can consult 80 other members from local authorities and charities. People will freely share information, ideas and policy documents.”
4 Develop relationships
Don’t be afraid to extend relationships out of the original network. Addison has called upon people she has met through networking groups to speak at conferences she has organised. “I have got in some excellent speakers that way,” she says. It’s also good for increasing your industry profile and making a name for yourself outside your organisation.
5 Give and take
Networking is of course a two-way street. If someone is asking for advice or contacts, think about how you can help. People will begin to notice if the help/advice/support is all one way and they are not getting anything back.