Water Journal : Water Journal April 2012
awa news 44 APRIL 2012 water regular features Networking -- It's Not Who You Know, But Who Knows You Mike Dixon -- YWP President Networking is a vital skill for Young Water Professionals (YWPs) to build a strong support base and reputation early in their career. I'm sure you've heard the phrase, "It's not what you know, it's who you know". I believe both are equally important to progress a career. A network means you can share experiences and knowledge with people outside your place of work and learn much more about our industry. I see networking as an investment to bring longer-term career benefits, although sometimes you can be fortunate to experience immediate results. This recently happened to me. While attending the International Desalination Association World Congress in Perth, I spoke with a researcher from Saudi Arabia. He was interested in the work I had recently completed and came to see my presentation that same day. Several months later I received an invitation from the National Centre of Excellence in Desalination Australia (NCEDA) to talk about the same research at a conference in Oman -- what a great opportunity! In fact, the contact I made in Perth had recommended me to the NCED as a speaker for the Oman conference. Networking can certainly pay off. Tips for Effective Networking As YWPs it's common to ask how to start networking with other people. How do you avoid embarrassment or awkwardness approaching people you don't know? Will they be engaged with your conversation? Will you create the right tone for discussion? The list goes on. Creating a new network can be difficult, particularly if you don't know anyone at an event. The easiest option is to attend with someone who has an established network and have that person introduce you to a few people. Once you have a 'critical mass' of people you know in a particular field, you can likely attend most events and will always know someone to talk to. Networking works like a snowball; the more people you know the more people you will be introduced to. But what if you do need to start cold? The best advice I have taken is to approach someone standing alone. They will be relieved to have someone to talk to and, just as a sporting team can use a set play to score a goal, you can use a set play to network. In our industry a set play could be a list of questions you memorise and use every time you network. This way a conversation can start to flow. Remember most people like to talk about themselves, so ask lots of questions about what they do and what they're passionate about. Try: "Where do you work?"; "What are you currently working on?"; and "How did you come to be in your position?". Building Your Networking 'Empire' In addition to this, you can use a few tricks to help people remember you at future events. Use their name and make a point to remember it. Julius Caesar, founder of the Roman Empire, could apparently remember each one of his troops by name. You can also help build your empire of contacts by exchanging business cards and/or connecting on LinkedIn. Many people will follow up a new contact with a short email reiterating that it was good to meet them and wishing them well with their projects. So how about the experienced YWPs out there? How can you improve your networks? Perhaps your network is filled with other YWPs -- but you want to meet some more senior people? As I outlined in my first article last month, joining an AWA special interest committee or branch committee may be useful. In addition, you could create a list of influential people you may like to talk to and why. Becoming a Connector An experienced networker can start to strengthen existing relationships outside their organisation by sharing knowledge and experience rather than purely seeking to make contacts. Recently I read an article that suggested becoming a "connector" rather than a networker; a connector sees the networks someone may need and can put them in contact with the right people. You could perhaps say that LinkedIn plays the online version of a connector; it has become a powerful tool for creating and maintaining professional relationships all around the world. You can easily keep a record of your network and all the details of what each contact does via their profile. Asking and answering discussion topics within groups on LinkedIn can also help you connect with people outside your network. Last but not least, sharing what you know on LinkedIn has the added value of helping build your reputation as a professional in the water industry. The YWPs have an active LinkedIn group that is the perfect place to practice. Our group will keep you abreast of activities for YWPs across Australia and engage you in discussions relevant for YWPs; for example, the benefits of the many mentoring programs occurring around the country. On behalf of the committee I welcome your knowledge, input and connections to widen our connections, our knowledge sharing and our experiences. Who knows where it could take you?
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