Career Advice in Times of Crisis, Part V: How to network effectively

Among all the previous tips from our speakers in the Career Advice in Times of Crisis series, the most frequently shared was the importance of networking in career management and job search. Networks matter more than ever, it is a confirmed fact that most of the hiring is done through referrals and commonly accepted that there are many hidden opportunities in the market. Networking helps sharpen the fit with your next job, and the process of building relationships will have benefits as well on the long run: the network is there for the rest of your life!

Sebastien Brion, Professor at the Managing People and Organization Department at IESE teaches the “Power and Influence” elective for 2nd Years, in which he speaks about the importance of networking. The course is so much appreciated that 2nd years suggested Professor Brion share his insights with 1st years, as they thought it would be useful for them in this period of uncertainty. Hence in this session we invited him, together with Vicki Li, Ali Alamein and Túlio Prado, recently graduated MBA-20 students.

At IESE’s Career Development Center, we give our students tools and strategies to handle networking. We hand out plenty of tips to network efficiently and try to set it up as a step-by-step process. Sebastien shared some of these tips during this session:

Focus on learning, find common interests, set a goal or a purpose, clarify what you expect from the relationship, give to others, be authentic and grateful, create a plan, be strategic and organized, follow up and keep track. 

These tips are certainly understandable and actionable. Yet, as a career coach, I have met many students who actually struggle keeping up with the process. It seems not that easy for them. I had started already to reflect on how to help them find motivation to pursue and not give up. I was wondering for instance whether they really did not like networking, or whether they did not understand the value of it?

While listening to Sebastien and the students, some answers to these questions became clearer. I started to put things together in my mind and to draw the links that could explain the blockage situations I was witnessing. What is definitive in stopping them? I would like to highlight 3 main ideas from this reflection.

1.  The fear of rejection

The fear of rejection is a significant obstacle for many of us to network. One often gets into the vicious circle: attempt, rejection, confidence loss, fewer attempts, increased rejection rate, … In the end, it’s easy to start believing that it is just not worth it.

Sebastien recommended to explore Jia Jiang’s Rejection Therapy. I listened to his TedTalk and what caught my attention was: “Embrace rejection, turn them into opportunities”, in other words: do not give up right away. The typical reaction to rejection is to run away. It is never a pleasure to see unanswered emails or to get turned down from an application. A key learning from Jia Jiang is that when facing rejection, you need to turn it into a “yes” by figuring out the “why” behind it. Try to understand the fear or doubts of the person you connected with so as to develop a first bond. The idea is to transform the rejection into an actionable next step. It is very important to understand that rejection usually occurs when there is no match between what you offer or ask and the other person’s perspective. Equally important is to understand the rejection is never about you, who you are or what you have to offer. Furthermore, that a person cannot answer to your initial expectations does not mean they cannot help on other aspects in their scope of action or in their own network. As Sebastien said, “we underestimate the power for social obligation”. The reality is that it is hard to say no when people ask for help. Don’t get stuck by a first rejection.

One piece of Ali Alamein’s advice was: “Don’t be afraid of putting yourself out there!”. People are always more than happy to help and especially in your Alumni network. The rejection therapy will build your resilience, so do try it. As Ali recommended, a way to overcome your fear is to find common interests and try to create that bond first. It will help you feel more comfortable, so you can establish a genuine and trustful first connection that in turn will end up as a long-term relation.

2. The introvert excuse.

Jia Jiang said: “I simply fulfilled my life dream just by asking”. This is where the power of networking comes into play. Networking will get you more than a job. It should be obvious for everyone but some still tend to find excuses not to do it. These excuses, such as lack of time or the belief that networking is a manipulative and self-interested strategy, are strong barriers.

Another interesting barrier brought up by Sebastien during the session was the introvert excuse. Many would assume that networking is for extraverts, for they are perceived as very comfortable in any type of conversation settings. Introverts tend to believe that the society has been created for extraverts and are quite impressed by their facility to talk easily. Introverts commonly have an inclination for small group and even one-on-one settings. They tend to believe that they do not need others, feel more autonomous and self-sufficient. The truth is, we all need connection, we all learn from others. In this article recommended by Sebastien, the author, David Burkus, highlights that introverts actually do better in creating meaningful conversations and increasing the trustfulness of the relationship.

Vicki Li introduced herself as an introverted person. She said she enjoyed staying by herself and tended to listen rather than to speak up. Her network circle used to remain small outside of her work life. She learned from the “Power and Influence” class to push herself forward. She decided to connect with people through LinkedIn, she reached out to them and was surprised to see how much noteworthy advice she obtained. Each time she would prepare in advance for the conversation to be meaningful for both parties. Trust increased. They discussed about benefits and challenges. She felt happy to have this kind of conversations and appreciated how rich it was for her and her future career. Through this experience she realized she was able to create trustful relations, which gave her the confidence to keep up with networking.

3) Networking is more will than skill.

Túlio Prado is the perfect example that illustrates how will is crucial to networking. Apart from developing the skills, he has worked a lot on the will, putting substantial effort into it. Tulio finds motivation in using his network as a tool to make things happen. He keeps his motivation high by celebrating the wins. He does not give up in case his attempts are not successful. He puts a lot of energy in creating content to share with others. His network keeps on growing and he is generating value out of it.

If you are stuck with your networking, determine the reason why. Is it fear of rejection? Is it a lack of motivation? Is it an excuse you have set up (like the introvert excuse or a lack of time)? Whatever the cause, it will reduce your willingness to move forward. In fact, it is all about shifting mindset.

While skills are capabilities that can be developed with experience and training, will depends on confidence and personal feelings towards the task. Improving your skills is fairly easy compared to influencing your will. How to increase the willingness to network? Start with what motivates you in networking. Identify intrinsic and extrinsic motivations and incentives. Recognize small success. If needed, find a mentor or a coach to get support and independent feedback. Most important, do not give up. In the end, it pays off. It is a long-term benefit.

Thank you to Vicki Li, Ali Alamein, Tulio Prado and Prof. Sebastien Brion for this insightful session. It has been very appreciated by our students.

[This article was first posted on Linkedin]


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Manuella Arulnayagam View more

Manuella is a French-born Sri Lankan Tamil, who has been living in various areas of the world before settling in Spain. She had studied engineering but quickly turned to Human Resources where she developed her career. She spent 10 years at L’Oreal, first in France then in China, before joining IESE in 2016. She is now acting as Career Management Associate Director within the CDC, where she focuses on developing career development programs and individual coaching for MBA students, using her strong empathy and emotional intelligence to help them clarify their needs, define their goals and manage to get to the right position.

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