Networking and the hidden opportunities that pass us by

by Darryl Howes

10 October 2017


There’s no doubt about it, when most of us think about networking we bring to mind an early morning or evening gathering over a soggy bacon sandwich or a warm glass of wine.

But, in doing so, are we missing out on some of the less obvious chances to network? And in turn, stand guilty of ignoring on some excellent opportunities to develop ourselves and our careers.

In fact, there are networking opportunities every time we interact with other humans. The quality of that interaction either strengthens or weakens our social capital (defined, in short, by ‘What other people say about us when we’re not in the room’).

One measure of our ability to capitalise on opportunities is the ‘bus stop test’.

It goes like this. We are waiting for a bus. The elderly lady next to us in the queue mentions something about the weather. Do we talk with her or do we just nod our head and carry on waiting?

Being open to opportunity often involves finding it in the most unlikely places. We sometimes discount these happenstances for fear of feeling foolish. But who knows whether the elderly lady’s favourite nephew has just been appointed a senior VP and is now on the lookout for talented hires to expand their team?

All of this is akin to studies of luck, where scientists have found that ‘lucky’ people are no different to anyone else. They just adopt a more open attitude and therefore consistently encounter chance opportunities.

So, here are some other less obvious networking tips:

  • By 2019, researchers estimate the average office worker will be trading over 120 emails per day. Every outward email is a chance to highlight who we are, so how we construct our email sign-off matters.
  • Interaction with LinkedIn provides a host of opportunities for us to network. But rather than tooting our own horn, we should note that the best form of networking involves lifting others up through positivity and encouragement. Hence, we should structure our interactions accordingly.
  • First impressions matter. Online photos need to be appropriate for the context and the image we wish to portray (and in these more relaxed days, this can be smart without having to conform rigidly to business attire). And we shouldn’t spoil the effect by sloppy execution: let’s be conscious of formatting and image size requirements within the various social media platforms. A quick Google search will confirm all the details.

We should also bear in mind that lucky people benefit from another skill. They carry a clear dialogue in their heads that, when called upon, explains quickly and memorably who they are and what their career project entails. In other words, they have a laser-like image of their desired direction of travel.

If we don’t have this kind of internal story worked out and ready to deliver at a moment’s notice when opportunity strikes, we should all commit to construct one as soon as possible.

Darryl Howes is speaking in a workshop at the HFMA’s Kent, Surrey and Sussex branches annual conference, which takes place on 13-14 October