Are you struggling to find time to network after work?
Or maybe you just think all this networking carry-on smells a bit off?
Years ago I attended a seminar run by a respected headhunter.
I remember him talking about networking, and how the ones who got ahead made time to network after work.
I wasn't sure about this advice, but after a long career in senior leadership positions, I can see why he said this.
So, I'd like to offer two ways to organise your time so you can network after work, without it taking too big a toll on your family time.
Before discussing how, let's spend a moment looking at why you might not be prioritising this aspect of your career development.
The reluctance some people feel about networking was picked apart in a great article called Learn to Love Networking, published in the Harvard Business Review.
I Don't Want To Network After Work — It Feels Phoney
If you're holding back from the whole network after work schtick, it might be because you think, like lots of people that there's something a bit unfortunate about it.
People report that the idea of networking can feel phoney, or that it is plain brown-nosing.
Many think there's something unwholesome about it, that it can even make them feel dirty.
The problem is that finding the time to network after work (or in work hours for that matter) is a smart manoeuvre.
In their article How Networking Can Make Us Feel Dirty, Tiziana Casciaro, Francesca Gino and Maryam Kouchaki share the results of a study they conducted of a large American law firm.
"…we found that their success depended on their ability to network effectively both internally (to get themselves assigned to choice clients) and externally (to bring business into the firm). Those who regarded these activities as distasteful and avoided them had fewer billable hours than their peers".
Here are four ways to outthink your reluctance, which like many mental hacks reprograms your brain to see the same thing in a new light.
Incidentally, the article 30 Proven Mental Hacks That Will Make You More Successful has plenty of other useful tips that you might find useful.
Hack #1: Tell Yourself It's Educational
People are usually motivated by either their hopes or fears. Psychologists refer this to this as 'promotion' or 'prevention' mindsets.
If you're in the former group, you'll like see networking as an opportunity to develop and grow, not just your network but everything that flows from an active and expanding number of engaged contacts.
Such people will dwell on the personal growth and potential for career advancement this will bring.
'Preventers' on the other hand are likely to regard networking as an obligation — something they have to do.
Unsurprisingly, preventers often feel such activities are a bit fake and don't prioritise them.
It's possible to change this default setting if you want. The best tactic is to think of networking as an educational — that it's about discovery and learning rather than a chore as the Learn To Love Networking article in Harvard Business Review suggest.
Hack #2: Look For Shared Interests
It's much more likely you'll follow through and commit time to network after work if there are clear areas of overlapping interest which you can explore.
It would be sensible to do a little research to identify areas of mutual concern that you could productively explore.
When you connect with people like this, you're much more likely to feel that it is an authentic conversation and what flows from such interactions will feel constructive and useful.
Hack #3: Recognise That You've Got Something To Offer
In Influence Without Authority (affiliate link), Allan Cohan and David Bradford suggest that when thinking about their contribution to a networking situation, people who see themselves as of lower station, tend to focus on:
- Social Connections
- Technical Support
These are tangible, task-related areas which people who have lower rank are likely to have less of, which can hold people back 'because they are not worthy'.
Cohan and Bradford suggest a better approach would be to focus on assets that are more inherent:
- Enhanced Reputation
Concentrating on your innate qualities makes a lot of sense. Imagine the person you're connecting with (if they are of higher rank).
Such a person might believe mentoring is a good thing to do — but how much better will that person feel if you thank them authentically for the generous investment of their time?
If a sense of inferiority is holding you back from making time to network after work, then looking at how you might make someone feel appreciated and recognised for what they do to help you might change your outlook.
As Casciaro, Gino and Kouchaki suggest:
" When you think more about what you can give to others than what you get from them, networking will seem less self-promotional and more selfless — and therefore more worthy of your time."
Hack #4: Take It To A Higher Level
Another trick you can pull to overcome your resistance to networking is to your substitute aims. Instead of aims which track back to you, look for purposes which touch on benefits for the broader good.
For example, if you're a professional working for a firm, networking is a useful way of driving business and is therefore beneficial to your employers.
Alternatively, you could flip this around and look at the benefits your customers, patients or clients might obtain.
This could be through widening your network, broadening your knowledge and increasing the support you're able to leverage on their behalf.
2 Ways To Make Time To Network After Work
1: Block Time In Your Calendar For Research
Work with Hack #2 and block an hour each week to research potential networking opportunities. You're looking for candidates who might share a common interest.
There's no harm in creating a simple spreadsheet (see below).
Spend 60 minutes every two weeks updating your list.
2: Create A Networking Calendar
It's easy to create a calendar using any of the most commonly used calendar apps.
To do this using Fantastical (my preferred calendar app on iOS):
You can give the calendar a name (Networking) and colour code.
In The Best Mac Apps For A Minimalist Macbook Setup, I make recommendations for other apps which are also great choices. Alternatively, What Is The Best Time Management Software? sorts out the best apps to use to give your time management efforts a boost.
Having created your calendar, just build into it a series of recurring appointments called 'networking opportunities'.
Then you take your spreadsheet and see if you can fill the slots with email, Skype or face-to-face meetings.
Making contact could be as simple as reaching out via email or other social media platform such as LinkedIn and finding a way to open a conversation.
Start with one after work slot each month and see if you can manage that. If that works well, then you can let things develop at your own pace.
If some people don't respond, remind yourself that it's probably because they're not ready, rather than some unsuspected flaw in your character they've somehow noticed.
The key to successfully finding time to network after work is consistency.
You don't want to wait to start your outreaching campaign until you have an emergency on your hands.
As someone once said, it makes sense to mend the roof when the sun shines.