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Towards finding a silver bullet

03 August 2016

Chasing business and career success can be hard work and frustrating, especially for women. The experts in the field agree if you want to achieve success, mentors, sponsors and networking - as long as that networking is about making meaningful connections with people and not stuffing your pockets with business cards - are the important ingredients.

According to Ainslie van Onselen, Westpac’s Director of Women’s Markets, Inclusion and Diversity, the one and only time she didn’t have success with networking was when she adopted a more formal approach recommended by a networking guru: “She gave me three names and email introductions to people she thought I should meet and then told me to ask them for three more. I found this too formal and stifling. I don’t like meeting with people with whom I haven’t had at least one nice casual conversation.”

Ainslie believes reframing networking to be more about connecting, which is something women are naturally good at, is vital: “You don’t have to be an extrovert to connect in a meaningful way. In my experience, connecting comes in different forms – from one-on-one coffees to more formal, drinks-style networking events.

“My tip is, when you find people you ‘click’ with ask to have a coffee with them or, if you really get along, lunch. It’s all about the personal connection – spark…” And always, she says, keep an open mind: “You may want to meet them for your next job opportunity, but I can tell you that puts too much pressure on the catch up. Instead, just catch up – share stories, learnings, current affairs, etc., but at the same time be humbly up front about what you want to do in life – your passions and ambitions. The person you meet with may have an opportunity in mind for you that you are not even across or could imagine, or they may be able to refer you to someone else. I’ve had some incredible opportunities come my way through ‘just catching up’.”

The point is to genuinely connect with people all the time – not just when you want something. A good resource on the topic is Never Eat Alone by Keith Farrazzi. His advice is you shouldn’t keep score when it comes to networking. Straight-up exchanges of one thing for another are not what make relationships, and if you are going to take the time to connect with somebody, their success should be your success.

Reaching out to others and building your network of contacts before you need anything from them is a good way to ensure you’re doing more than making finite deals. You might, for example, join a community group that interests you, or get involved with a work project or something you are passionate about. It will widen your circles and expose you to more people, thoughts and opportunities.
Making connections is better for everyone involved if you have goals. Think about what you truly love to do? What would you enjoy doing for the rest of your life? Put those goals down on paper and flesh them out. Try to break them down into smaller goals that you can really wrap your arms around.The other thing to remember is be audacious: people can only say no and often, it’s yes.

Interpersonal skills - lean in, remember and use names, shake hands, unfold arms, smile – are important. However, Farrazzi believes you need to go beyond merely making yourself interesting and figure out what value you have for others.Ask yourself - and perhaps more importantly, others: Why would someone remember me? What do I bring to the table that others don’t? What do people think of when they hear my name and what do I want them to think of? Work this out and cultivate the image you want and people will remember you and value you.

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