Roy Sheppard writes about the importance of networking
For many years I have advised young professionals in many fields on how to build their careers and their professional reputations. Time and again I have encountered highly intelligent individuals who mistakenly believe that their qualifications are all they need. Today, great qualifications are a 'given'. It is expected that you know what you are doing as an actuary.
So, what are the other factors that will propel your future career?
I meet a lot of people. It is my job. I came to realise many years ago that "Who you know determines who you become in life". Behind every successful person is a sound and well-nurtured network. The most successful people are always the best connected. They have invested in their future by realising the importance of 'getting out more'. A low profile carries a high cost.
The most significant opportunities in your future professional life will almost certainly come about as a direct or an indirect result of who you meet and get to know. And, very importantly, who they know; both inside your company and across your industry. It is not only the quality of your work that facilitates your opportunities.
For others to recommend you, they need to know, like, trust, value and respect you as a person. Why? Because no one can afford to put their own reputation on the line by recommending someone who will (or could) let them down.
Therefore, who you get to know in the years to come is incredibly important to you regardless of what you may think at the moment or how busy you believe you are.
This starts right now.
However, the biggest problem most people face (and this includes even the most senior, highly experienced men and women) is that nearly everybody feels uncomfortable about initiating conversations with people they do not yet know. Walking into a room of strangers makes a lot of people feel self-conscious, even anxious. In my talks on this subject, I usually joke that it is the fault of our mothers because who has not had it drummed into them from an early age "Don't talk to strangers! It's dangerous!"
As we all get older, this is something we really need to re-think. Talk to more strangers in the workplace because it is good for your career.
We all realise the need to meet new people, but often feel gut-wrenchingly awkward about doing so and will go out of our way to find ways to convince ourselves that we're 'too busy right now' to initiate conversations. We do not know what to say. We worry about what people will think of us. We worry about being rejected and of course, there's 'no point' because we cannot ever remember anybody's name any way!
If this describes you, note that all of these 'afflictions' are more common than you would imagine. If you are a sufferer, you are in the majority. Therefore, there is nothing wrong with you.
Develop the mindset that strangers within your organisation are merely friends you have yet to meet.
Suggesting the following to particularly intelligent readers is almost embarrassing, but over the years I have found that most people (especially intelligent ones!) wait for others to initiate conversations. Within your company and at industry events, as basic as this is, make a point of initiating contact with at least three new people every day. Simply smile and in an upbeat, friendly way, just say "Hello". The objective is to just be more friendly. Help others feel noticed and appreciated. This is the first step towards building potentially valuable future relationships. And it is simultaneously the first step towards enhancing your professional reputation.
Your attitude towards others, how easy you are to work with and your reliability are qualities that influence what others say about you behind your back. And is a hugely important part of reputation building. The more co-workers you meet and impress, the more likely it is that colleagues will start to talk well of you to their colleagues.
As difficult as it may be to accept, adopting these simple new behaviours will become just as important to your career as those qualifications you worked so hard to acquire.