Networking can be a scary word can’t it? At the start of my career aged just 21, I had no real grasp of what networking was, nor was I interested in finding out. Now, just 5 years on, I have come such a long way and networking has been a huge part of my journey and contributed to my success.
Years ago I would attend events with the sole purpose being to chat to my friends and drinking as many free glasses of wine as possible. I now realise that these events had huge networking opportunities which I failed to appreciate.
Networking can mean many things. Yes, it can be attending an event at a venue full of strangers but it also can be as simple as asking someone for coffee.
Biting the bullet
I used to find walking into a room full of strangers terrifying and the thought of striking up conversation with them seemed impossible. Truth is, a lot of people feel the same way and most people are relieved when you introduce yourself to save them from having to do it themselves! A great way to break into conversation is by saying “Do you mind if I join you?” which is very simple and the majority of the time people will be very welcoming.
Once you have managed to engage in conversation, introduce yourself with more than just your name. “Hi, I’m Faye” gives the other person nothing to really continue the conversation with. However “Hi, I’m Faye. I work as a PA in the West End for an accountancy firm” gives the other (probably nervous) person an opening to ask a variety of questions. Be mindful though not to just talk about yourself, ask questions too.
You might be thinking it’s all good and well going to an event and having a nice conversation with someone but what is the ultimate point and why should you sacrifice your precious evening? The benefits of networking are limitless. It can be to meet others in your field or to speak to those working in a field you are looking to get into. You may want some advice on training you are considering or perhaps be looking for a mentor. It can also be an opportunity for you to help someone else and if you go with the mentality of ‘how can I help other people’, it can be a hugely rewarding experience. Personally, I find going alone more beneficial. Often when you go with colleagues the temptation is to talk only to one another.
For me as a result of putting myself out there and attending all the events I can, I have not only met some amazing people but have identified two mentors, joined the Board of a women’s networking group, found speakers for events and sought invaluable advice about a number of training courses that Google just would not have been able to provide.
I am the same as every young woman working in London but the key to my networking success was ignoring the little voice in my head that said I was too scared, that I wasn’t interesting enough and I didn’t have time. And the ironic thing is by going along and talking to people I have more confidence than ever before and the more people I meet, the more I am able to introduce other people to one another.
Below are a few useful links to get you started, some of which are generic and others more PA specific:
- We are the City An amazing website listing a huge variety of networks. WATC make it simple by providing an events calendar of when all the networks are due to meet. I know Vanessa Vallely (the website’s founder) very well and she is fabulous!
- PA Life a fantastic resource of useful information for PAs and once you register with them you will receive emails of all their upcoming events.
- The PA Club another great resource for PAs. The PA Club send out regular e-mails with useful information and competitions to enter.
- The Landmark Forum is a three day course (in a series of three educational courses) which allows you to really delve into what holds you back in life. This really was a game changer for me and would recommend it to everyone. Not strictly networking but a fantastic personal development course.
Make sure you follow up
Now, once you have met someone and exchanged details, follow up! There is no point putting all that effort in to attend these events if it just means adding another business card to your collection. Add them on LinkedIn or ask them for coffee. I have met some very inspirational people this way who are often more than willing to share their wisdom with someone who has taken the time to meet with them.
Last but not least……have fun! Networking shouldn’t be a chore and once you’ve been to a few events you will start to see the same faces and it will be like catching up with friends.
So my best advice is “feel the fear and do it anyway”!
And for anyone who thinks I may be able to help them in some way, please do get in contact. I would be more than happy to meet for coffee or begin a mentoring relationship if it would be beneficial.
Faye Kilgour is an established and passionate Personal Assistant who currently supports a Head of Department at BDO. Faye’s expertise lies within event and project management and she prides herself on providing excellent one to one support for the Head of Department.
Faye also sits on the Board of a women’s networking group, which has allowed her to meet a wide variety of inspiring professionals. In her spare time Faye is committed to giving back; recently volunteering to be a reading partner for children at school and as a mentor for any charities that need her help. At Christmas Faye also volunteers to assist run a homeless shelter, which involves co-ordinating 200 volunteers and 300 guests.