Network Without Cringing (Really!)
Sorry, introverts, but it’s time to make connections. Professional networking can reveal a new world of project management opportunities. In fact, nearly half of talent recruiters say quality hires were the result of referrals, according to LinkedIn’s Global Recruiting Trends 2017 report.
But swapping business cards at a crowded cocktail hour or engaging with other project managers on social media doesn’t have to give you pause — or paralysis. Having a strategic networking plan can cut the tension and open doors for even the most reserved project professionals.
Wade into the networking waters with these tips from project management pros:
It’s easy for natural networkers to barrel into a room of strangers and steer conversations toward a shared alma mater or hometown. But those who hate networking should break the ice in advance of attending a live event, says John Barker, PMP, COO, tech firm Attollo Systems, Culpeper, Virginia, USA.
Find a list of event attendees and reach out to a few of them online during the days or weeks before you attend the event. Keep this early engagement brief: Share a line or two about your career, why you’re attending the event and that you’re looking forward to chatting in person. “Then, when the event arrives, you’ve already know some people to speak with,” he says.
Those who fear face-to-face events can double down on the digital world. There’s no risk to browsing niche project management forums, following project management thought leaders on Twitter or making connections with other project or program managers on LinkedIn. Then, take it to the next level by liking or retweeting someone’s post — or even commenting on familiar topics — to help establish common ground with other professionals.
Virtual engagement can pay dividends even for the most passive networkers, because connections can make introductions or send invitations that open other doors, says Jim Bob Howard, a director and project manager at software firm JourneyTeam, Nashville, Tennessee, USA.
“I once noticed a soon-to-graduate MBA student had looked at my LinkedIn profile, so I reached out to her,” Mr. Howard says. He eventually connected with her, and even introduced her to a colleague in her field of study who introduced her to another company where she landed a job.
Project managers should tout accomplishments to network effectively and boost their reputations. But if it feels self-centered to boast about that US$5 million project that was completed under budget and a month ahead of schedule, start by asking other event attendees to discuss their successful recent projects or their hobbies to discover shared interests. Such engagement paves the way to eventually turn the focus back on your work — and shows that you care about others.
“People usually help those who they care about or who are like them,” says Fabiola Erika Flores Quezada, PMP, infrastructure project manager, NG Restaurants, Lima, Peru. “If you let them know you on a personal level, that can work in your favor — and makes talking about your skills and accomplishments a little easier.”
Professional networks start right at work. Project team members — in the office or on virtual teams — are a great way to develop networking skills that can be applied outside the office at events, says Tyler Garrett, solution architect and project manager, Dev3lop.com, Austin, Texas, USA. Likewise, socializing with prospective business colleagues before getting down to work — a common practice in some cultures — can help grow networks, too.
Networking in-house also is an opportunity to expand influence. Mr. Garrett actively increases his network by starting every virtual meeting with a few minutes of non-project conversation. “It could be sharing something I just read or plans for the weekend,” he says. “Once, I commented on someone’s desktop image of Yosemite and wound up chatting with the project sponsor about rock climbing for nearly an hour. It wound up being one of the best engagements of my life!”
No matter what fears and reservations networking might conjure, it’s time to leave your shell. Learning to open up will create more professional connections — and reveal new possibilities for career growth.