If you want to get ahead, get networking

posted by Meryl Bushell
19 January 2018

Make it your new year’s careers resolution to cast aside any qualms about schmoozing – and you may find your next promotion, says Meryl Bushell

The mention of networking invokes evenings spent balancing a glass of poor quality wine in one hand, a canapé in the other, making small talk with strangers, wondering how long you have to stay before you can make a retreat.

But, networking productively is one of the most powerful things you can do to increase the likelihood of successful career progression. There is a wealth of academic research that shows the best type of network for career enhancement is one made up of both a close-knit group of trusted friends, and links to acquaintances who give access to a range of information.

Networking has been proven to be a useful tool at every stage of career development. It is believed that up to 60% of executive jobs are found through word of mouth. When an individual hears of a job through a contact, they have a greater chance of being successful in gaining the job, as there is likely to be a better match between the job and the individual. The more acquaintances you have in your network, the more likely you are to hear of a range of job openings, and the more senior the acquaintances in your network, the more likely you are to get a better paid role.

It has also been shown to aide socialisation into new jobs, and reduces the chance of making an embarrassing error in the early days with a new organisation.

And it enhances your job performance. It is a vital element in stakeholder management, enabling you to understand business requirements from a range of perspectives. The ongoing access to information and resources that a large network brings can improve performance not only by giving access to diverse information, but also by increasing opportunities for brokerage.

A person with a large number of acquaintances who do not know each other can act as the bridge between them, brokering and bringing together disconnected individuals. This is particularly useful for building virtual teams and in creating new solutions to problems.

This is the core of entrepreneurship, demonstrating an ability to bring together information to create a more valuable whole. It increases an individual’s capabilities across a range of disciplines but is particularly useful for procurement professionals looking for innovative ways to improve value for money.

The information that networking brings to an individual helps to keep their skills current and allows them to meet new challenges. Additionally, a wide range of contacts provides the chance to use networking for mentoring, advice, support and sponsorship.

The case for networking is compelling, but studies have shown that benefits are more positive for men than for women, and one of the reasons is the ways in which the genders build and use their networks. People build links with those who are similar to them, and this is particularly prevalent among women, who network predominantly with other women.

Since positions of power still tend to be dominated by men, this means women have fewer influential people in their networks. My own PhD research found that women maintained contact with fewer seniors and bosses than their male counterparts, again reducing their links to powerful people.

In my study, the male interviewees were more proactive in maintaining contact with influential acquaintances, only attending events (often small informal breakfasts and dinners) where they knew they would mix with important others. The female interviewees were more likely to attend large formal events where the opportunity for refreshing relationships with senior people was limited. As a result, women can have less access to information, sponsorship and advice.

Many women I have spoken to have expressed a distaste for what they see as ‘schmoozing’. However, I see it as a mechanism for enhancement of knowledge and skills. It makes you better at the job you’re doing today, but also makes you more likely to get promoted in the future. For me it is one of the core competencies for procurement professionals.

Meryl Bushell is a former CPO of BT, and is now a non executive director, a Crown representative at the Cabinet Office and a strategic advisor and coach.

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