The value of networking throughout your career

At every stage in your career, networking can play a pivotal role. When you’re thinking about returning to work, networking can inform, inspire and help focus your efforts. When back at work, networking can help you develop, gain visibility and progress.

It’s important, but it can be uncomfortable. Many of us instinctively shy away from networking. It can feel manipulative and demanding. But it needn’t be – at its heart, networking is simply ‘a conversation with a purpose.’ It is about connecting with other people who have a common interest, whether that be work, hobbies, personal circumstances or life stages. The purpose is to share information, and in some cases to support each other. When you’re on a career break, you may have these sorts of conversations all the time  –  what do you do? have you been to any good events or exhibitions recently? can you recommend a restaurant/book/babysitter/plumber/course?  – you just don’t call it networking!

Preparing for networking conversations

It can be really helpful to plot your different networks on paper to capture your key contacts.  Create different groups, for example family, friends, former colleagues, student friends, community connections, gym friends and contacts through volunteering.  Don’t just include people you know well – think creatively about a broad mix of different people who can help provide ideas and perspectives that you may not have previously considered.

When we’ve been on a long career break, we often forget how we used to introduce ourselves professionally. Start with the headlines that are important to you, that highlight your strengths, key experiences and values now. Reconnecting with your career story, whether you are returning to our old sector, pivoting or changing completely, takes time and practice. Getting out and telling your career story to different people will help you to get clearer on what you want to highlight and will help your listener understand what you have to offer and where they can help. As Herminia Ibarra says in her brilliant book Working Identity, “We discover the true possibilities by doing ….by reworking our story as we tell it to those around us”.

Networking when you’re on the journey back to work

As you start your return to work journey, networking will help you build your knowledge quickly – of current trends, challenges, and opportunities – all great for upcoming interviews. It will also help you to build your understanding of what skills are valued now so that you can focus any upskilling on in-demand areas. And when you’re out and about talking to people, you’re in the right place to hear about unadvertised opportunities – whether jobs or volunteering opportunities to build your experience.

When approaching networking conversations during the career exploration or job search phase, there are 3 broad areas you can look to explore:

Insights – to understand the latest trends, opportunities and challenges for a particular sector. Or to understand the finer detail of a particular role you’re interested in, to see whether you have the skills or experience ?

Ideas – to test the validity of some of your ideas and how they land. Are you being realistic? If not what would you need to do to make your idea more viable? What ideas do they have that you might not have considered- types of roles, or organisations to explore? How do they see your skills and experience transferring across?

Introductions – this comes towards the end of your conversation when the person you’re speaking to has a good feel of what you have to offer, what you’re interested in and how they may be able to help. Are there any people they’d recommend you reach out to or they can connect you to?

With each contact, consider what are they best placed to help you with – insights, ideas or introductions.

Networking when you’re back at work

Once back at work, networking continues to play a key role. If you’re working for a larger employer, they may have internal Networks for Women/Parents’/Carers’/etc – joining one that fits with your circumstances can be a great way to meet new people. More generally, looking for ways to build connections outside of your immediate team can ease your return to work transition and provide valuable connection and peer support.

In the early days, networking can help you find out the key info necessary to help you get your arms around your new job. Talking to colleagues will help you to understand how departments interrelate and help you to quickly get a feel for organisational culture.  It can also help you to understand what skills are valued internally to help you focus and prioritise your learning in the early days.

In time, networking can also help you to raise your visibility and profile. Amanda Scott and Zella King’s ‘Personal Boardroom’ model advocates a strategic approach to building your network. It highlights the importance of building relationships with a wide range of people who can each offer different elements to help you progress, including ‘Information’ (subject knowledge, insights and ideas), ‘Power’ (access to people and resources) and ‘Development’ (feedback, challenge, courage and balance).

How to get started

Having thought about the who, the why and the what of networking, don’t forget to plan the how! Networking doesn’t have to be time consuming and by chunking it up into small activities, you can diarise them and weave them into your week/month:

  • Spend time plotting your contacts on paper. Leave space to add new names as you get started!
  • Reach out on LinkedIn to connect with a contact and take the time to tailor a personal direct message
  • Email a friend/former colleague to arrange a coffee to chat through some ideas
  • Look into Insight Events run by organisations running returner programmes to see what you can sign up to – there are lots of virtual events you can do from the comfort of your own home to learn more about different opportunities
  • Get out and about – meet a contact in person or attend an event in person. It will feel good to get professionally dressed up again and back connecting with your professional self!

Most importantly, choose the networking activity that you feel confident to accomplish, and just get started, little and often, to build your confidence.

Natural Networking

Feeling comfortable, confident, and prepared for networking is such a valuable skill to develop and hone throughout your career. It’s important as you return to work as it can help you refine what you are looking for and open new opportunities. Once back, building your internal and external networks can really help your career progression. In a recent webinar for members of our Professional Network, Rachel Halsall, Executive Coach, shared her thoughts on Natural Networking with us. Here Angharad Boyson, Women Returners new Coaching and Relationship Manager, summarises this session. 

Rachel’s definition of networking really cuts to the heart of it: The fastest and most enjoyable way to collaborate and share information.

Networking styles 

Using John Timperley’s four broad categories of why we network, Rachel has developed four styles of networking: 

  • Business networker – you network to win business, build, and develop your career. The downside of this style is that you may not nurture relationships unless they consistently feel useful. 
  • Relationships Connector – you find it easy to develop rapport and regularly contact your network. But you might be slightly slower to ask for business when the opportunity arises. 
  • Ideas Connector you enjoy connecting with people who can add new ideas or fresh debate and like to swap thoughts on an intellectual or technical level. However, you don’t necessarily stay connected with people whose thinking you believe is not up to date. 
  • Learning Connector – you connect for personal development and with mentors or teachers, although you may have little time for those in other areas and you are not necessarily applying or sharing your learning. 

Rachel suggests identifying your own style and then purposely mixing that up, so that you try different styles.   

Different networks 

As well as different categories and styles of networking, there are different networks to develop. Herminia Ibarra, author of Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader, says these are: 

  • Operations – internal network that helps you get things done 
  • Personal – people that help you to grow and develop personally and professionally 
  • Strategic – those that help you to generate strategic ideas, offer support; typically external. 

Rachel’s take on this separation of networks is about being able to conserve energy. If you have just one hour a month for networking, either divide this evenly across the three networks, or rotate each month where you expend your effort. It is important not to drop that personal network when you are busy. Whilst that is the obvious temptation, this network is just as important as the others and could be the one that provides you with that all important re-energising. By dividing your attention across all three equally, you reap the benefits of all three.  

What to ask for 

When we are networking, it can feel hard to know exactly what it is we are asking for. Rachel suggests that this can be divided into: 

  • Knowledge – information, informed opinion, different perspective 
  • Introduction – person, business, sector, membership 
  • Recommendations – keep me in mind if….  

Networking when you’re time short!  

One of the biggest hurdles to effective networking is thinking that we do not have the time. Rachel gives us some tips on how to spend just 2-15 minutes to enhance your network: 

  • A 2 minute phone call to book in a 15 minute catch up 
  • 5 minutes per week to choose your target 
  • A 15 minute catch up/zoom/phone call 
  • An information sharing call and walk 
  • How are you? 
  • What are you seeing from where you sit? 
  • Have you come across anything useful? 
  • A call that holds us both to account 

Top tips 

Rachel closed with her top tips: 

  • Generously share your network – who can you introduce in your network 
  • Be useful (if in doubt, ASK) 
  • Build trust, and most importantly … 
  • Begin – look at those 2–15-minute tips and pick just one to begin today! 


How to prepare for virtual networking at an event

With our annual Conference coming up, we’re sharing our tips on how to get ready to virtually network. 

We know many returners find the idea of attending a virtual conference or event quite daunting. You may be wondering what it will be like to use new technology and to interact with others in a virtual world, when past events you attended were in person. The beauty of a virtual event is that you can access a wealth of information and connect with experts, employers and others in a similar situation to yourself, without the cost and inconvenience of travel, or logistics and health risks in this current climate. In most cases (as with our Conference), you can also access recordings of anything you missed or something you want to watch again. We’ve put together some tips to help you with preparing beforehand and attending on the day. With good planning and preparation on your part, you can really ensure you get the most from the event.

Virtual set up: Firstly, be reassured that the technology for virtual events is designed to be easy to navigate. There will always be people online to contact for support and to help with any tech issues. You will be sent joining instructions and it is a good idea to register before the day and make sure that you have access to the correct apps, weblinks and passwords.  Give some thought to what you want to wear to look professional but to feel comfortable. Try to find a quiet place in your home where you are less likely to be disturbed or invest in a headset. It can also be a good idea to think about what is going to appear in your background. Don’t forget to mute yourself on the day (if needed) when you aren’t speaking.   

Set yourself some goals: Think about your motivations and reasons for attending the event in the first place. With our Conference, it might be that you want to build your confidence, connect with other returners, find out more about returner opportunities or start thinking about your interview technique?  Perhaps it is all of these things and more. Once you are clear on why you are investing your time, money and energy in attending a virtual event then break things down into specific goals. This may be to speak to two other returner attendees at the networking 1-2-1 video chats or to ask some specific questions to a particular employer sponsor. Achieving your goals will be a boost to your confidence. Just make sure your goals are achievable so that you don’t feel too much pressure. And don’t forget to pat yourself on the back when you’ve achieved them!

Plan your introduction: Although one of the workshops will cover in detail how to improve your self-marketing and develop your professional introduction, it’s a good idea to have a brief introduction prepared. This will increase your confidence and help you to feel prepared for a networking chat or a more targeting discussion with an employer sponsor. This needs the following: your name, a brief description of your professional background, a mention of your career break, and your reason for being at the conference. You may want to include the reason for and length of your break, but don’t make talking about your break the full focus of your introduction. It might help you to practise saying your introduction out loud or with a friend, to get used to talking about yourself in this way.

Prepare topics: Whether you’re focused on asking questions at the employer power hour, networking with other returners, or both, it’s a really good idea to do some advance preparation. Research the individual employers online and develop those questions you want to ask. Think about what you’d like to find out if you have a 1-2-1 virtual chat with another returner – asking questions when you meet someone new is an easier way to start a conversation. Advance preparation means you can arrive at the virtual conference confident that you’ll have something to say to the new people you meet. 

Develop ongoing connections: If you connect with other like-minded women, this could be the start of your return-to-work support group! You can decide to share email contact details in the networking sessions and/or use LinkedIn to connect in a more professional sense (just make sure to note down their full name!). After the event, you can also use our private LinkedIn and Facebook groups to find and connect with other returners.

For more general tips on how to network successfully, check out our Advice Huband How to network virtually

How to network virtually in the current environment

Catherine Kraus, Women Returners Coach, has created a short webinar on “How to Network Virtually” as part of our series to support our network through the COVID-19 crisis. Here’s a summary of some of the key points, with a link at the end if you want to watch the full 12 minute webinar.

Networking is extremely useful to you when returning to the workforce. It can lead to career opportunities and access to new information that you didn’t have before. And while face-to-face networking is a great way to grow your professional network, online networking skills are essential, particularly in our current social-distancing environment.

That’s why we’re offering you some guidance on “How to Network Virtually” – how to get started, how to reach out to others and how to follow-up with your contacts.

How to get started

  • Set an intention: Before you start to reach out to others, you need to clarify for yourself what goal you are trying to achieve. Your intention may vary greatly, depending on what kind of information you’re hoping to learn from your potential contacts. If you’re returning from a longer career break, you may want to reconnect with a former colleague to understand the recent industry trends from her perspective. If you’re thinking about becoming a freelancer, you may want to reach out to an acquaintance who did the same, in order to understand the pros/cons being an entrepreneur. Set your intention by reflecting on what you’d like to learn and, then, as a next step, think about who could possibly help you get that information.
  • Schedule time in your calendar: Networking doesn’t have to be time consuming. When you’re planning to return to work, you have a lot of things to do. That’s why it makes sense to set aside dedicated time to networking. This will be individual to your goals and availability. You could reserve one hour a week, say every Friday morning to reach out to 3-4 contacts or you can choose to block out one full afternoon per month to catch up on all your networking activities.
  • Update your online profile: Make sure your online LinkedIn profile is updated and complete (for more details how to do this, read our blog post How to optimise your LinkedIn profile). Connecting with professionals in your area of work and reestablishing relationships can open up opportunities you might not have considered.

How to reach out to others

  • Start with people you know: Many people find it intimidating to approach others, especially if it’s not in-person. It may feel contrived or needy. Luckily, psychology reassures us that, in general, people are open to helping others. Still, you can make it easier on yourself by starting to build your online network with people you know. You probably have more networking connections than you think. Sit down and brainstorm all the people you know: include former colleagues, neighbours, volunteer groups, your child’s school parents, sport club contacts and university and school friends. Then prioritise your list based on your networking goals.
  • Make it personal: Adding a personal message to a LinkedIn connection request will help your request stand out. Remember if you worked at a big company or if it was a long time ago, you need to let ex-colleagues know exactly when, where, and how you worked together. Also take the time to personalise when you send an email, direct message or text: make it’s sincere, unique and all about connecting with the other person. Here are some ideas from The Muse on how to write a request to connect.

How to follow up with contacts

Last, but not least, you’ll want to keep track of and follow up with your networking contacts.

  • Don’t keep it online: Fix phone or video calls with a few people on your priority list. Ask for 20-30 minutes of their time. Keep in mind your goal  when you’re structuring your request and the call itself.
  • Keep notes: Remember to note down any follow-ups from the conversation: Did your contact give you additional contacts to reach out to? Did you get recommendations on important business articles to read? Did your contact ask you keep in touch with the progress of your job search in a month’s time? It helps to keep a simple spreadsheet with information such as: Name of contact, Background information, Date you last contacted, How you’re connected and Notes (e.g. your activities, possible next steps, or new leads).

For more tips on networking watch our pre-recorded webinar: How to Network Virtually presented by Catherine Kraus [12 mins]

How to prepare for networking at a conference

We know many returners find the idea of networking quite daunting, so here are some tips to help you make the most of our Conference or other similar events. 

Set yourself a goal: This may be to speak to three people you haven’t met during the breaks between sessions, or there may be a particular employer sponsor you’d like to speak to. Achieving your goal will be a boost to your confidence. Just make sure your goal is achievable so that you don’t feel too much pressure. And don’t forget to pat yourself on the back when you’ve achieved it!

Plan your introduction: Although one of the workshops will cover in detail how to craft your personal story, it’s a good idea to have a brief introduction prepared. This needs three elements: your name, a brief description of your background, and your reason for being at the conference. You don’t need to talk about the reason for your break, or its length at this stage. If you are new to networking, it might help you to practise saying your introduction out loud or with a friend, to get used to talking about yourself in this way.

Prepare topics: Whether you’re focused on meeting an employer, or still working out your future direction, it’s a really good idea to do some advance preparation. This includes researching individual speakers and employers online and through your existing networks, and developing questions you can ask to specific individuals and generally to other conference attendees. If you find it uncomfortable to talk about yourself, ask questions when you meet someone initially – it’s an easier way to start a conversation. Advance preparation means you can arrive at the conference confident that you’ll have something to say to the new people you meet. 

Use LinkedIn to connect with other people: LinkedIn is a great way to find and connect with other attendees at a conference. You can do this manually, simply by looking up the people you meet. Or you can use a tech way if you have a smartphone: 

  1. Enable Bluetooth on your phone. 
  2. Click on the two people icon at the bottom of the screen in the LinkedIn app and then ‘find nearby’ in the middle at the top of the screen
  3. You will then be able to invite anyone at the event who also has this screen open to connect. 

For more tips on how to network successfully, see these blogs in our Advice Hub: Top tips for enjoyable networkingAre you missing the point of networking at an event?Do I really have to network?

Telling your return to work story

“I struggle to view myself as anything more than a mother any more”

Ex-investment analyst after a 10-year career break

What do you do?

If you’re planning your return to work after a long career break, one of the hardest questions to answer can be “So, what do you do?”. You’re not sure whether to talk about your time at home or what you used to do all those years ago. If you have younger children and most of the people you are meeting are other parents, you may well introduce yourself more often as someone’s Mum than with your own name. It’s not surprising that as our career break goes on, our independent working selves feel so far in the past that they’re not really part of our story any more.

If your old professional life feels like distant history, then it’s harder to believe in yourself and feel positive about your return to work. This not only knocks your confidence but also makes your job search much less effective. Many women returning to work after a break find a new job through old and new contacts rather than through advertised roles, so you need to have a ready reply rather than a stumbled mumble when an ex-colleague asks “What are you doing now?” And when you do make it to an interview, if your response to the classic “Tell me about yourself” interview question is to spend the majority of the time describing and explaining your career break, you are underselling your past experience and are unlikely to come across as a credible candidate for the job.

The Career Break Sandwich

When you’re putting together your story, don’t start or end with your career break. We suggest you use a structure we have termed the “Career Break Sandwich”.

  • Talk first about what you did before in your working life – your career ‘headlines’ to establish your credibility.
  • Then talk about your career break. Explain simply why you’ve taken time out of the workplace, but avoid apologising for or justifying your break or spending too much time talking about what you’ve been doing. However do include any study, voluntary work, time spent abroad, unusual/challenging activities or anything else that might be interesting in terms of skills development or updating to a possible employer.
  • Finish with what you are looking to do now in your career and why.

Herminia Ibarra, in her classic career transition book Working Identity, suggests that a coherent story helps us to make sense of the changes we are making, so building our inner self-confidence. It also makes us more likely to get other people’s support: “Until we have a story, others view us as unfocused. It is harder to get their help“.

Aim to draw out links between your past and future, particularly if you have a varied work history or are planning a career change: Have you always enjoyed helping people develop? Or solving difficult problems in a team? You’re always bringing the benefit of your past experiences, at work and at home, as a foundation for what you want to do now.

Telling your story does take practice. Try out your narrative first with family and friends and get their feedback. Telling and retelling allows you to rework your story until you feel comfortable and convincing. Aim for a longer version to answer “Tell me about yourself” or “What are you looking for?” and a short version so you no longer hesitate when someone asks “So, what do you do?”

How to map your network

I get that networking is important but I have no idea where to start? 
Most returners in this contemporary job market get the fact that networking is important. They realise that in this day and age, the majority of roles are filled directly from people’s networks and not from recruiters or adverts.
But for many of you there may still be a mental block when it comes to approaching your network – or even recognising that you have a network! Particularly when you throw a career break into the mix, adding to the overall effect by magnifying fears and worries about who and how to use contacts to help.
So let’s challenge some of the common assumptions that may be holding you back from thinking about how your network can help with your return to work.
I don’t have a network anymore. 
I hear this a lot from women who have had a career break. In fact, we all have a network. It may be a different network than the one you had before your break, it may be a combination of old and new contacts and it might even be a better one than you had before! You might just not be thinking of it as a professional network or be assuming that those you spend time with now won’t have any useful professional contacts.
I can’t ask people I know socially to help me with my job search. 
Would you help your friends if they asked you? We like helping other people. Remember you are not asking your friends for a job but simply for information or an introduction to someone in an area/organisation that interests you. It’s also a good way to begin practising your work story and re-engaging with the ‘professional’ you. A lot of leverage can come from a personal network, particularly after a career break.

Remember “Six degrees of separation”? The trick with networking is tapping into your wider network – most opportunities come this way. This means multiplying your contacts and reach by accessing your network’s network.

My current contacts won’t know anyone in my field of interest.
This is a common assumption, but you can’t have total awareness of your network’s network. One returner’s neighbour’s brother turned out to be very senior in the sector she wanted to get into and was able to make an introduction. You don’t know who might know who ..
We often meet women who have known potentially-helpful contacts for years but yet never had a conversation about their professional selves. You could be sitting on dynamite contacts right in front of your nose!
How to Map your Network

Mapping your network helps you to think about who you know and to prioritise who to approach.
  1. Create some quiet space and time to brainstorm different areas of your life in which you have contacts who might be able to help you. Be creative and think broadly!
  2. Consider contacts in Past and Present, together with ideas on new contacts you could develop in the Future. Here are some groupings to get you started (adapted from the excellent book Back on the Career Track):
    1. Past: School, university, professional training, work (colleagues, clients, suppliers, alumni groups)
    2. Present: Family, friends, neighbours, sports, hobbies, volunteer contacts, religious and community contacts, professional bodies, school network
    3. Future: Create local alumni network or job search group, volunteer, join an association
  3. Include all the people you know in each group. Make a rule not to rule people out. Remember to keep an open mind and approach it with curiosity – wouldn’t it be interesting to find out who people might know? Use LinkedIn to find people from your past and enlist others to remind you of people you may have forgotten about.
  4. Map it out in a way that works for you – it might be a spider diagram, post-it notes on a large piece of paper or a spreadsheet.
  5. Prioritise your 1st level contacts – those you will approach first – by creating relevant criteria such as: “Do they have relevant sector/function/technical knowledge?” “Do I think they will know a lot of other people who could help?” “Do I feel comfortable contacting this person early on?”   
  6. Then map out 2nd and 3rd level contacts – those you will approach later. John Lees’ book Just the Job is helpful in explaining how to work out different levels of contacts.
I’ve mapped my network. What now?
  1. Your primary goal is to use your network to make useful new contacts. Approach your 1st level contacts – tell them what type of work you’re looking for, relating it to your interests, skills and experience before and during your break. Ask them if they know of anyone who might be able to offer you advice or to provide information on your area(s) of interest, and if they would be happy to make an introduction.
  2. With each new person you meet, ask at the end of the conversation if they could introduce you to anyone else who would be interesting to speak to.
  3. Create a system for tracking your progress and adding to the network as you expand your list of contacts. A spreadsheet works well at this point.
  4. Reward your progress – it’s better to approach several useful contacts per week than to spend hours researching on the internet with no focus. Every time you set up a call, arrange a coffee or gain a new introduction reward yourself in some sort of way that’s meaningful for you – it will take time and effort but will be of great long-term benefit not only for your first role back but in terms of your ongoing career opportunities!
Posted by Kate Mansfield, Lead Career Coach, Women Returners

Are you missing the point of networking at an event?

This week’s blog is by Rachel Halsall, one of our Women Returners Coaching team.

One of my favourite ways to spend time is to work with coaching clients to design their networking strategy.

After having had the pleasure of providing coaching
sessions at the Women Returners Conference, it struck me that many of the women I spoke to were missing the point about what networking at an event is all about and what the benefits can be. What I heard in a number of these coaching conversations was a belief that networking is about walking up to somebody you don’t know, reciting
an elevator pitch and then asking them for a favour, an opportunity or a job.

Whilst it’s true that your next opportunity may well come about through your wider network, this is not what networking is about at all.

What is event networking about?

To ‘network’ at an event is …
  • To walk into a room of
    people and to engage in interesting conversations;
  • To find out more about another
    person and their perception and ideas;
  • To enjoy social interaction in person rather than through social
  • To share knowledge;
  • To build new contacts and widen your network of interesting people;
  • To find out what is going on in your or
    other sectors;
  • To make introductions to help interesting
    people meet other interesting people.

At the Conference I saw that some great conversations were happening all around the room, and that new relationships were being developed. I hope that these conversations continued after the event. Staying in
touch and nurturing that connection is essential – in most cases it is through this on-going effort, rather than the initial introduction, that
you will see the advantages of having a great network pay off.

How can you get better at event networking?
You can get better at this form of networking, and enjoy it more, simply by getting out there, attending some events and asking other people some questions. Practice listening
intently to somebody about their take on things. Be interested
in what you are hearing rather than worrying about whether or not you are interesting. Use the kind of listening skills that you would use on a first date and you will find that you remember much more detail than if you’re focusing on saying something impressive.

If I am paying attention to you, listening to you, enjoying your company, learning from you and sharing my knowledge with you, you are more than likely to want to stay in touch with me, to ask me for help and to help me should I ask. This is the point of networking.

To finish with an easy tip: Smile when you enter
the room and turn your ears on!
Posted by Rachel, Women Returners

Tips for networking at a conference

The Women
Returners team are looking forward to meeting many of you at our Women Returners Conference next month. You will enjoy the
panels and workshops that we are presenting and there will be plenty of
networking opportunities. I know how scary the idea of networking is to many
returners so this post will attempt to reduce your fear and prepare you for
making the most of our Conference, which will be relevant for any other similar networking event.
3 Tips for Conference Networking
Set a goal: there are no rules about how many
conversations to have or business cards to collect, but if you set yourself a
goal, you can feel good when you have achieved it. For those of you who are
actively seeking to return to work, there might be a specific employer you want
to talk to, while for those of you just starting to think about your return, your
goal could be to practise speaking to a stranger. It is up to you to decide:
just make sure that your goal is realistic and remember to congratulate
yourself when you have reached it.
Plan your introduction: although one of the workshops will
cover in detail how to craft your personal story, you will help yourself by
having a brief introduction prepared. This needs three elements: your name;
your background; and your reason for being at the conference. You don’t need to
talk about the reason for your break, or its length at this stage. If you are
new to networking, it might help you to practise saying your introduction out
loud or with a friend, to get used to talking about yourself in this way.
Prepare topics: whether you are focused on meeting an
employer or still working out your future direction, advance preparation is
essential. This includes: researching individual speakers and employers online
and through your existing networks; developing questions you can ask both to
specific individuals and generally to other conference attendees. If you find
it uncomfortable to talk about yourself initially, asking questions of the
people you meet is an easier way to start a conversation. Advance preparation
means you can arrive at the conference confident that you’ll have something to
say to the new people you will meet.
Finally, remember that everyone else attending the Conference is a returner, just like
you. You are likely to find something in common with most of the people you
meet and you will have taken yourself one step closer to getting back to work.
For other
posts on networking see:
Posted by Katerina

How to build your post-career break network as a nervous freelancer

A common route to return to
work following a career break is by working as a freelancer, offering your
specific skills to companies or individuals on a project basis. I took the
freelance route when I first started building my executive coaching practice
following my career break and being quite shy and reluctant to ‘sell’ myself, I
found the process of networking to find clients intimidating. Mary Jane
Boholst, a self-described ‘shy, introverted, geeky freelancer’ shares her
expertise on how it’s possible to build your network despite your fears.

If you are like most introverts or you are just unused to talking
about yourself as a professional then the idea of networking to get clients or
jobs as a freelancer can be a daunting one.
There are a great many problems that arise, the most pressing of
which are where to go, who to talk to and how to talk to them. We’ll tackle
those one by one in a moment.
What you offer
Before we do I want to make networking less daunting by sharing
something that helped me to overcome the scary task of actually going
networking to get clients and connections when I decided to take the leap into self-employment
from my job.
This is something that I teach during my talks and seminars, which
attendees and clients alike tell me makes such a difference to how they feel
about networking and it’s:
Your service is a gift!
Now whether you are an employee or a freelancer, whatever it is that
you do as a job or a career, it makes a difference to the people you provide it
That makes it, and you, a gift.
Whether you are an artist who brings a slice of beauty to everyone
who sees your art, or a digital media professional who advises growing
businesses on how to make the most of the social media channels or a business
consultant who can carry out research and analysis and present recommendations,
the service you provide is a gift that others need.
If you don’t know what your gift is then take some time to get clear
on that first! Photography, cooking, interior design, counselling, coding,
editing, copyrighting – take your pick! (I highly recommend choosing something
you are passionate about doing.)
Once you know you are offering something special to the people you meet,
where should you meet them?
Where to find potential
If you are a freelancer or new to business then it is going to save
you time (and money) to think about who you would love to work with.
Who are the people who you think would benefit the most from your
gift and who you would love to share your gift with?
Companies, individuals, busy professionals, couples, techies,
creatives – the list is endless!
When you know who you are looking for it becomes easier to find them
and talk to them.
The best way of finding who you are looking for is to think about
places they would go and be at those places. If you struggle to find events
eventbrite and meetup have great events that you can go to meet people
with various interests. For more corporate/ professional individuals,
Internations could be a great way for you to meet people.
Each of these sites has a search facility so you can search for the
people, interests and topics that you, and your people, enjoy.
What to say
When you are at events meeting people, there are several steps to
having a great conversation and making sure it is effective.
Firstly, keep in mind that you are offering people something that is
a gift!
This will help you to feel less salesy when approaching people and
starting conversations.
Then I find it is useful to start the conversation by asking a
question like what’s your name? Or what brings you here?
Actually I find that curiosity is the key to having great conversations:
the more that you are interested in the people that you meet, the more they
respond positively and the less self-conscious you’ll feel because you are
focusing on the other person.
It also means that you listen to what people say, and who doesn’t
want to feel heard?
When it comes to what you ask questions about, the key is to find
out if you can help or support the people you meet in some way.
If you can help them with your product or service then you can ask
them if they are interested in hearing more about it, before telling them more about
If not then you can give them a referral to a resource or
opportunity/event that might help them move toward their goals. Then you can
still ask them to be open to sharing about your work too, once you are done.
Networking and building a network is a long term strategy and game
plan, so if the first few people you meet are not your clients, still be open
to speaking with them because they may be able to get you one step closer to an
investor, referral, potential client, event or opportunity.
If you are introverted, shy and geeky, like me, then you could find
it especially useful to be curious and listen because it doesn’t require you to
be extroverted and someone you are not.
In fact I know that networking works best when you are being
yourself, because it is something my clients say to me all the time and
something I discovered for myself when I discovered how to build my network
If you want more support to do this then please get
in touch
with me!
Mary Jane Boholst is the
founder of Conscious Cocoon helping women in tech and shy introverted business
owners to step out from behind their computer screens, speak up, speak out and
share their expertise. Find out more here.
For other posts on freelancing see:
Freelancing as a return-to-work option
Posted by Katerina