Skills for better networking

 31 July 2014

Face to face networking doesn't have to be a nightmare, but first of all you need to work on your social and commercial skills. Networking expert Darryl Howes looks at how to improve these skills and aid your networking technique.

There has been a great deal of research in recent years on the benefits of having a social outlook on life. (Image: James Fletcher)
There has been a great deal of research in recent years on the benefits of having a social outlook on life. (Image: James Fletcher)

So, you want to get a job in the creative industries?

Sending out your CV can work, but the results are unpredictable. Likewise the business of phoning prospective employers to ask if they will take you on.

And as for face to face networking? Forget it! Or should you?

As a networking expert, I have good news. Through the application of a few simple tips, practices and techniques, good face to face networkers can be made and not just born.

Social and commercial skills for networking

I’d like to take a little time in this article to talk about social and commercial skills. Both are important in making the right first impression in a networking setting where a potential employer might be present.

A useful tool is my Bus Stop Test. This evolved through many discussions with employers about what they want to see in new employees.

It turns out, regardless of the industry, employers all want broadly the same things from new starters:

  • They want you to be enthusiastic and energetic.
  • They want you to be curious and willing to learn.
  • Oh, and they want you to have both commercial skills and people skills.

Do the bus stop test

The six questions of the Bus Stop Test can help you identify and improve your people skills and commercial skills. They go something like this:

  1. You are waiting for a bus. The elderly lady next to you in the queue mentions something about the weather. Do you talk to her or just nod your head and carry on waiting?
  2. When you next upgrade your smartphone, will you accept the price and just pay – or will you haggle for a deal?
  3. Who do you follow on Twitter? James Caan (Dragons’ Den) or James Corden?
  4. Do you see opportunity around you or do you see problems?
  5. Consider your network of friends and family. How well do you know what they do, what their interests are and who their other friends are?
  6. What have you done in the last week that demonstrates your creativity? How would you go about selling what you have done?

Practice really listening to what they say in the same way that you listen intently to the lyrics of your favourite artist.

There is some subtlety around the messages above, so take a little time to think about them before reading on. What do your answers say about your commercial and people skills?

The bottom line of the Bus Stop Test is: to get on in life, some proactive effort is required on topics that might be unfamiliar to you.

The payback is you will educate yourself in the ways of the social, commercial and business world. I can guarantee this will stand you in good stead throughout your career.

The skill of being a social being

On being social, there has been a great deal of scientific research in recent years on the benefits of having a social outlook on life – or ‘being a social being’.

Some tips on this from the BBC’s Happiness Manifesto are shown below. They may sound a bit wacky, but they work at honing your social skills (I’m looking up at my copy of the manifesto on my office wall as I write this):

  • Meet up with a relation or friend you have not been in contact with for a while. Practice really listening to what they say during the conversation – in the same way that you might listen intently to the song lyrics of your favourite artist.
  • Think about the amount of time spent using personal devices and cut back a little. Yes, this is communication, but it can pull you away from face to face contact.
  • At least once a day, smile and say hello to a stranger.
  • Try to develop a habit of a daily kindness. Do an extra good turn for someone each day.

Developing commercial skills

Now let’s talk about commercial skills. Maybe you find such things boring, but making money is an important part of most organisations. 

Have a go at trading. Buy or sell something on eBay or, even better, buy or sell something at your local car boot.

To get on in life, some proactive effort is required on topics that might be unfamiliar to you.

Step back and try to understand the language and behaviour of buying and selling. For example, how buyers behave on ebay as an auction comes to a close.

If you want to get really adventurous, allocate yourself an imaginary £100,000 and look at the stocks and shares listings on the financial pages or online. Pretend ‘buy’ some shares and track how they do week by week. If you are losing money, find out why the shares have dipped. Conversely if you are in profit, find out why.

If you do this as a group with friends as a virtual share club it is great fun and you’ll be surprised how competitive it gets. 

Good networking takes research

Find out which businesses operate in your chosen field. Google who owns them and their history. How did they start? Why do they do what they do? Who are their competitors?

Make a note of the answers to these kinds of question so that if you are asked in a networking situation, you are able to comment.

Many employers report that candidates don’t seem to know anything about the company where they have applied to work.

Doing this kind of research demonstrates proactively that you are interested in the employer. If they sense you are not interested or poorly informed, you are unlikely to be offered a job.

You don’t need to turn yourself into Sir Alan Sugar overnight! But a little bit of knowledge can go a long way.

Coupled with your enthusiasm, energy and curiosity to learn more, you’ll have an unstoppable package the next time you attend a networking event.