How to Network – first tip, don’t call it networking!
Margie McCarthy, Director of Research and Policy Insights at SEAI, shares tips and insights on avoiding the pitfalls of networking and overcoming its awkwardness, following the discussion at the Women in Energy Network event at the SEAI Energy Show 2023
Have you ever enjoyed attending an engaging conference, but when the break came, you dreaded having to join the crowd outside where everyone else seemed to know someone, but you didn’t?
Does the mention of ‘networking’ make you cower and avoid work events?
Rest assured you are not alone. Many people get uneasy about having to ‘work the room’, because after all, no-one wants to suffer the slightest chance of looking awkward! Plus, the likelihood of feeling this way increases if you are a minority in the crowd, which can be the case for women in the energy sector – an increasingly diverse, but traditionally male dominated sector.
Finding the 'Connection' beyond the 'Networking'
So it was great to hear insights and helpful tips to overcome these feelings and what we can do to maximise our networking skills at the recent SEAI Women in Energy Network event at the 27th SEAI Energy Show.
Themed on ‘how to network’ – how to do it, why do it, is it important, and why it’s sometimes difficult - the session involved a keynote speaker and a panel discussion with women working in climate action and the energy transition, sharing their experiences of networking in a professional area which continues to have under-representation of women. When approached, a number of months back, to chair the event, I have to admit it made me think about my own challenges with networking. I was intrigued and genuinely interested to hear other people’s experiences. The response to the discussion on the night showed many others were too.
Firstly, the simple fact is that just the word ‘networking’ makes me uncomfortable.
Which is odd. I’m a people person. I am madly keen to know people, their stories, why they do what they do and what motivates them in the work they are doing. But when asked to ‘network’, I’d rather go home. Turn that into ‘go out there and connect’, and I’ll bound into the room ready to get to know people. Connecting with people, creating solutions together through opportunity and challenge, now that’s what makes me tick.
A Network can be a group of close Contacts
For me, I don’t see the people I’ve met through my career as my ‘network’, which seems almost clinical. Instead, it’s the range of people I have made a connection with. People who would go out on a limb for me and I would for them. Establishing these types of relationships, of trust, recognition and mutual respect, has led to great opportunities for me and I’ve learned that the time and effort I have put into my network has played out in ways I never realised until later. Like my name coming up in conversations in rooms when I wasn’t there, often opening doors for me without even realising it.
Through my over 25-year career across engineering, science and education, my network has often both been the bedrock of my survival and helped me to thrive on my professional journey
Joined by four fantastic women in energy on the panel - Gemma McCarthy - Regional Director and Dublin Cities Lead with Mott McDonald, Gráinne Kennedy - Climate Action Coordinator with Waterford City and County Council, Georgina Malloy - Chair of Engineers Ireland Women in Engineering Group and Programme Manager with SEAI, and Shriya Gandhi - Data Scientist with SEAI, the evening was a mix of stories from their careers and how they have learned to network.
These stories included efforts to establish a network when new to the country, to taking action to set up networking groups for women in energy. The room buzzed with conversation.
"I'm a people person...but when asked to ‘network’, I’d rather go home. Turn that into ‘go out there and connect’, and I’ll bound into the room ready to get to know people."
So, I wanted to capture the panel's top tips for networking. Please share them forward, and hopefully they'll help you or your peers to grow your professional clan:
Make networking more about being eager to learn about new people rather than about trying to sell yourself.
Be open with your objectives. Sharing what’s challenging you or what your targets are with others can generate surprising links and commonality. Working together and sharing resources to achieve a common goal can be effective and beneficial for both parties.
The networks that will work in supporting you are typically those that you give support to first. People who you have supported will support you in turn when you need it, and often will be the people who mention your name in a room full of opportunity, when you’re not there.
Don’t just think about building connections with people in senior positions. Make an effort to be available and approachable to those who are coming behind you in their careers, to minority groups and/or to those who might benefit from your support, your advice, or from an introduction that you can make for them. Pay it forward!
Think about your network. There might be people you might ask for support, people who will benefit from your support and importantly people who you can lean on, or they lean on you, for peer support. These are people who keep you sane! You can bounce ideas with them, or even just rant with.
Remember that sometimes when you are eagerly trying to connect, you might get a blank response - that is often nothing to do with you. The person you are talking to might have a lot on, have something on their mind, or they just aren’t keen to extend their network. That’s ok too.
Do your research, whenever possible, before meeting people. Know what people are interested in, or where you might have shared interests. It helps in building healthy conversations. Often professional social media platforms such as LinkedIn can help with this, or help you to identify like-minded professionals.
Reach out to people! If you admire how someone is dealing with something in a work context, reach out to them. Ask them if you could meet with them, even once, to learn their approaches. This has been hugely helpful for me in my career. Listen, as their words will typically be hugely helpful, and I’ve yet to do this and be turned down.
Stay in touch with your existing connections. Simple things like congratulating them for their professional achievements works. Keeping some of those connections close, so you can celebrate the wins, and rant about the woes, together is incredibly supportive.
Never burn a bridge. Whether finishing a conversation with a new connection or leaving a job, try to end on a positive. Thank people, acknowledge your appreciation of working with them. You’ll never know whose path you may cross in the future.
Lastly, a big thank you to the wonderful contributions of Gemma, Shriya, Georgina and Gráinne and good luck to you in your networking endeavours – may you meet a clan similar to the one I’ve learned to lean into over the years. For those reading this, that are in that clan, thank you, you’ll never fully know how much I appreciate you!
We also had a number of networks mentioned at the event, and promised to share links to them – please do check them out.