Networking – My Lecture to University Students

Transcript – ECU Lecture – Thursday 13th August 2015

Preparation for Professional Life – Networking Skills


Shireen: Welcome! I want to start my presentation today by telling you a story.

Yesterday I attended a professional development breakfast event: the topic was Employment Contracts and it was hosted at a law firm. The reason I chose to attend the event was that the topic was relevant to my work. Plus I had met one of the speakers before and I wanted to take the opportunity to say hello to him, and the event was free! Since you are students, I’m sure you understand the need to be resourceful with your finances!

When I went along to the event, I happened to see a couple of other people there I hadn’t seen in a while, which was fantastic, and I met a couple of new people.

I had also pre-arranged to meet someone straight after the breakfast event, since she worked at the firm where the event was held. She graciously gave me an hour of her time and since the conversation was engaging, she asked if I would like to come along to a networking event that evening because she had a complimentary pass. I was available and gladly accepted the invitation as I wanted to get to know her better. Also the event was with an organisation I didn’t know a lot about so I thought it would be a good opportunity to explore it for future networking options.

The evening event was called Local Chambers, it’s affiliated with the WA Club and was being hosted at the new iiNet offices in Subiaco. Now, I’m always a bit cautious about networking events, but aren’t we all! So I went along and luckily I found the crowd friendly and inviting. Then they had a prize draw and the stars seemed to align because my business card was pulled out and I won a new iPhone! My day of networking turned out to be quite unexpectedly fruitful.Why is that example relevant for you? The point I’m making here is not just to put your name into a business card draw, it is that opportunities are attached to people. Career opportunities don’t float like balloons in the air; they won’t necessarily find you, because opportunities are attached to people. You’ve got to seek out the right people in your career to find opportunities.

Slide02Shireen: A little about me; I run an executive search, recruitment, HR and career management business here in Perth. I’ve been in this field for 10 years overall — I started in executive search in the San Francisco Bay Area 10 years ago and I’ve been running my own business for five and a half years. My business relies heavily on networking to exist and to thrive.

Slide03Shireen: The agenda for the talk today is we are going to talk broadly about networking, key relationships and strategic networking and then if we have time we will do an activity.

Slide04Shireen: Ok, what is a network?

Student: A group of people with common interests.

Shireen: That’s essentially the core.

Student: People in a network have a special relationship and there is give and take.

Student: The network might have a common goal

Student: It can be people from different career types.

Student: Networking relates to being genuine and people showing a genuine interest in what you have to say.

Student: There is the physical and non physical – social media is the physical. Before the internet, people had names and exchanged information but it wasn’t visible.

Shireen: Everyone who has contributed has raised valid points. There is one thing that ties networks together.

Student: Connections

Shireen: Yes, connections, authenticity, commonalities. There is a currency of networks. Does anyone else have an idea?

Student: Introductions

Student: Communication. Relationships. Experience.

Shireen: And, there is something that is important in all human relationships.

Student: Trust

Shireen: Yes, trust is the currency of networks. There might be a small amount of trust such as you pay your membership fee to join or you are going to sit in the same class because you are studying the same course. There may be a a high degree of trust, such as someone you have known for 10 years. Trust is what binds networks together.

Slide05Here is a definition on the slide.

My business only exists if my customers trust I will provide them a quality service.

Shireen: There is a fascinating article by Forbes titled “The Number One Predictor of Career Success According to Network Science”:

According to this article, being in an open network rather than a closed one is the best predictor of career success. There has been research done by network scientists who have studied the phenomenon of human networks and some really interesting results have come out of this.

Slide06Now let’s look at a graph from the article. What is this graph showing us?

Being in an open network instead of a closed one is the best predictor of career success. That’s a pretty big statement! So, what are they talking about?

On this horizontal axis success is defined as relative performance – compensation, highly rated in evaluations and promotion. On the vertical access they are showing the difference between being in small closed networks or being a key link between larger networks. Some people with this capability are called super connectors, super networkers.

What these network scientists are arguing is that by being in a larger, more open network where you are a key link, you are going to have more success in your career. However if you limit yourself to a small closed network where you only communicate with people in your network you are in fact limiting yourself in your career.

Now in the great big lottery of life, which is where you were born, what type of network were you born into?

Student: Your family

Shireen: Yes, your family was your first network. You didn’t choose your family. You may be someone that only wants to spend time with your family, in which case you will be constrained or aided by the extent of your family network. Or you may continue in that family but expand your network as well.

There was a fascinating research paper published by the British Government a few weeks ago which exposes the “glass floor” in British society. The research found that less able, better-off kids are 35% more likely to become high earners than bright poor kids. Here is a link to the article:

You might already know that children born into a wealthier family network do better in life financially, generally. Whereas children born into a house where there is poverty may not do as well.

There is plenty of evidence to show that if you remain in a small closed network, unless you are very wealthy, you may be limiting yourself. I’m making this point because its about choice. You didn’t choose which family you were born into, what you look like, the time or location of your birth. But you do get to choose which networks you get involved in, in the future. So I’m introducing this concept of choice. If you can navigate yourself towards networks that are going to help you to the left of the graph rather than restrict your world view on your career and yourself to the right of the graph, potentially you are going to be more successful.

Slide07Just to further explore that point around human behaviour. As shown on this slide, strangers naturally gravitate to those like them. For example, I was at a lunch earlier and all the women sat on one side of the table and all the men on the other, we selected our seats subconsciously. Someone said “look what’s happened” and, since we were all human resources people, we got up and we moved and had an equal number of men and women on each side of the table. As humans we naturally attract to people that are like us. So if you only stay in your comfort zone and go with people like you, you are constraining your network. Groups become polarized echo chambers, group think sets in, and we all become like each other, reinforcing our sense of the world.

Why is this important for you in your career, either now or when you graduate?

Slide0850-80% of job openings are never advertised. In fact I saw one article which said 90% of job openings for graduates in the US are never advertised. The larger part of the job market is the hidden job market. What is the hidden job market? I’ve written a book on the hidden job market so it is a topic of particular interest to me.

I’ve drawn an analogy of an iceberg, which I discuss in my book. The smaller part of the iceberg is the advertised market, it’s the part of the iceberg you can see. The larger part of the iceberg is below the water line, it is the part of the job market you can’t see, but its there, and it has less competition for positions than the advertised market. For example, current application levels for open positions are hundreds of job applications. One of the HR people at BHP said they get 1000’s of applications for a single job advertisement. How do you accurately sort 1000’s of job applications?

By knowing about the hidden job market and how the job market works and how you might use networking to access the hidden job market you are giving yourself an advantage.

Does anyone have any questions about what I’ve covered so far?

Student: What you’ve mentioned hasn’t taken into consideration that a lot of businesses on the planet were established by people that didn’t come from money. How does that balance out?

Shireen: There are different theories on it. One is that the first generation makes the money, the second generation maintains the money and the third generation loses it. Once a upon a time the elite were those with the knowledge, they were the entrepreneurs and had the creativity, they didn’t necessarily come from a wealthy network. It’s not a blanket statement.

Student: I was just thinking it’s not simple.

Shireen: Sure, the job market is hard to define. We know people are getting or creating jobs in the market. There have been studies done on the size of the segments of the hidden and advertised job market. The US Department of Labour have statistics that 70% of jobs are advertised, 30% of jobs are not advertised, that data is a few years old.

Student: Never mind if it is hidden market or advertised market, if you have connections you get the job. Here in Western Australia the IT industry is very small and it’s hard to break the circle because they are all related. If someone is a uni graduate they give it to him because he has a connection, whereas the more experienced person misses out. It should be on merit, not on who your family is.

Shireen: Yes it should be on merit – the whole world should be on merit! Unfortunately you are dealing with humans who are creatures bristling with biases.

Student: I was at a company and they promised me I would have the position and I saw people coming for the interview but I still got the position.

Shireen: Yes, sometimes organisations will advertise and interview because they are going through a process. It’s not easy.

Student: Banks are pretty notorious for doing that as well.

Shireen: The Government is required to advertise all positions. Process dictates they must advertise.

Student: This isn’t new, this theory has been around for a long time. Promotions always come from within. Potential applicants may not realise they won’t get the job. This happens in mining.

Shireen: Sure, it’s not a new theory, but there is new data now about how and why these things happen.

Slide09Now I’m going to talk about my career and key relationships.

I came from a family where my parents didn’t have high expectations placed on me to go in any career particular direction. I left high school when I was 16 and started in a traineeship with Westpac. I worked for a few years and then realised I wouldn’t have fulfilment in my career if I stayed with Westpac long term.

So I went to night school to get into university and I was accepted into Curtin University. I recall what influenced my decision at the time, I had a few friends who were studying at university or were intending to, and also my boyfriend at the time said I should go to university. Had I been in a different social circle it may have influenced whether I studied or not.

I’ve always had a burning desire to succeed though so I would have probably gone to university at some point. But I recognize now that the people I was hanging out with had an impact on my decision to go, and stick it out, and to graduate.

There is a famous quote by the COO of Facebook – Sheryl Sandberg. She said “The biggest career decision you will ever make is who you marry”. What does your partner have to do with your career?

Student: Your partner supports you.

Student: They have an impact on the financial decisions you make.

Student: You start to replicate each other.

Shireen: Yes you mirror off each other. We’re talking again about that networking theory.

Sheryl Sandberg also wrote an excellent book called “LeanIn” and there is a companion website with useful career resources which I suggest you visit — Check out the videos on the site. Sheryl’s point is that the networks, lead to ambitions and support.

There is another saying “You are the sum total of the 5 people you hang out with most”. The people you interact with frequently influence outcomes in your career.

While I was at university I joined the Australian Army Reserve to help pay my way through university. I had valuable learning experiences there related to leadership, discipline, camaraderie, and high expectations.

When I graduated I tried social work and it was very emotionally confronting, I didn’t realise until I was in the job the type of impact it would have on me, so I went into short term contracting in the business world for a while.

I was contracting at a computer company and my manager at the time knew someone at AAPT, she recommended I go along and find out about a job opening and fortunately I was hired into a commercial sales position. I was at AAPT and it was a fantastically fun time of my life. I’m still in touch with my previous manager and co-workers. My previous manager is someone I looked up to in the professional world, he was a key relationship of mine.

Then in 2000 my partner, new daughter and I moved to California. My partners career impacted on mine in a big way because we left Australia and moved overseas. He worked with a technology company and it was decided I would stay home with the children while he worked. Plus initially only he was eligible to work in the US until our green cards came through.

I had another child in 2002 and was at home for a few years. I became involved with the local mothers club and made some new friends. I was out to lunch with a couple of mothers from the mothers club and one of them said she had just picked up Virgin Mobile as a new client in her executive search business, Savant Consulting, and they were looking to hire more people. Because of my past experience with AAPT in telecommunications I was interested in the position, and I was very fortunate that she agreed to take me on and train me in executive search skills. If I hadn’t volunteered to work on the board of the mothers club I wouldn’t have met my friend who became my boss. These circumstances led me to a career I have been in for 10 years now and really love because it has many of the elements that I like about a job.

We lived in the US for 6.5 years, then moved to England for 4 months, and then returned to Perth.

When I got back from overseas, having been away for almost 7 years, it took me a while to reconnect with my old networks. I made contact with a person I met in California because her husband and mine had studied an MBA together and we had met up in California due to their work circumstances. I asked her if she knew of any opportunities locally and she said yes, Briscoe Search and Consulting were hiring and she knew someone there. I was hired at Briscoe and worked there for 18 months until my position became redundant due to a downturn.

After the redundancy I started writing my first book, which is about executive search. I was really interested to dive deeper into my profession and continue learning. A few months into being at home and writing I got a call from a previous client who said they heard I was no longer at Briscoe. They had enjoyed dealing with me and they needed some recruitment assistance. I said “great, I’d love to help!“. That’s how my business started, they became my foundation client and are still my client five and a half years later.

The relationships I build now that I’m running a business are more focused around client relationships, professional development, building knowledge and helping others. That’s my career in a nutshell! I’d love to take questions.

Student: How do you go about expanding your network these days without relying on other people?

Shireen: I proactively spend time every week networking. I’m always on the lookout for good events. I attend the same conference in Sydney every year and have for 4 years because I am developing my east coast networks and my west coast networks who travel to Sydney for the conference. There are certain things and groups I will attend. I’ve created my own LeanIn circle of professional women, we meet every two months and we talk about career issues.

Student: What are some of your key resources?

Shireen: I get on mailing lists for my industry for events that are coming up. I have friends and contacts send me events. I look on Eventbrite, there are all sorts of events on there, some are free.

I continuously learn about how to network better and how to build my network.

Start now and build your networking skills and incorporate it into your career for life. Part of your career management strategy should always be networking to access the hidden job market.

Student: So where do you see yourself in the next 30 years.

Shireen: I will still be running my own business. I have the Daniel Pink view of Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose, that’s how I like to live my life. I want autonomy in my work and life, I want to be a master of the skills in my profession and I have a multifaceted purpose.

Student: Do you have any advice for us for our careers?

Shireen: Yes. Learn the skills of job search and career management. Find good mentors. That was a bit of a gap for me, try and find good mentors, they will introduce you to their networks as well.

I would be starting to look at industry events and find people who will invite you to relevant events.

I’d say also to start building your skill set around networking. It’s a skill set you’ll always need – what to say, how to say it, how to introduce yourself, how to be positive in your language, your quick pitch, how to be professional.

Look out for the networks you want to move towards. I know now that any future direction I’m heading in, if I want to move toward different areas in my profession, I need to start building the networks first. Think long term about the people you meet and have an affinity with.

There are a lot of online tools you can use to build your network and positively interact with people relevant to your career. Some tools I use regularly are Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+. I have a blog .

Do you get the education first or do you get the networks first?

Student: You’ve got to get the education first otherwise people will see through you. Why will people want you around if you don’t have the knowledge. How do you know who you know if you don’t know what you know?

Shireen: I think that’s a valid point, you may feel you don’t have enough expertise yet. I understand that. But you are a student and the minute you enrol in a course people will start seeing you that way, as a junior whatever your profession is. That’s ok, the beauty is you are learning. You can say “hi, I’m here to learn”.

It is about who you know but it’s also targeting the right who. That strategic networking side is so important. The Forbes article I mentioned earlier talks about Steve Jobs. One of the things he did to expand his network was joining a hobby electronics club where he met Steve Wozniack and together they founded Apple.

Student: It think we are exposed at university to people who are of that networking mind and who are interested in the areas they are studying. You are using the same networking skills at university as you do in the work place, although it’s a bit more intensive.

Shireen: Yes, you are learning those networking skills here at university. Whether you are developing strong links with people here or weak links, its ok, because you never know when a weak connection is going to become stronger in the future. So keep your interactions positive. The usual rules apply, be helpful, that’s going to be building trust. Be a giver – that’s a networking skill. Like the woman I met with yesterday, she invited me along to a networking event, she gave to me before I gave to her.

Student: Reciprocity.

Student: Mutual benefit.

Shireen: Yes. If you had a LinkedIn group with everyone in this room and you joined it this year but didn’t use it for several years, you would still be able to send someone a message and ask for assistance if its relevant, for example connecting you to someone they know who might be important for your career. They would likely want to help you. They may turn you down if your previous interactions weren’t positive or they didn’t know enough about you, and maybe they should, however in the main it’s likely they would want to help you because of the prior link through the university.

I think very long term about relationships now and I’m still working on improving my networking skills.

There are a lot of people in this room with their own networking experiences to find a job or to help someone else to find a job. What would you like to share with others so we can all learn?

Student: I had a prac unit last semester and ECU gave me a list of people I could contact, so I contacted all of them. From that several emailed back. I kept a record of who I had sent emails to and the communications. Then two weeks ago I emailed again just to let them know I’m about to graduate and I’m looking for a volunteer spot in their company. I chose to keep a list of those contacts to network with them again in the future.

Shireen: Excellent example, structured approach and outreach, you put yourself out there, great persistence. It’s not easy to put yourself out there, well done.

Student: You can’t expect that when you graduate that you will get what you want. You have to grab opportunities. A few years ago we had a mining boom in Western Australia but the mining industry is not like that any more, what are we going to do with all those graduates?

Shireen: Sure, careers are not necessarily linear. You might have several no’s before you get your foot in the door. The mining industry is very cyclical. Education is rarely wasted, in my view.

Lydia: Unless you are doing something that is really specialised, like medicine, there are so many transferrable skills you get doing a degree. You can look at what you’ve done and the general skills you have gained. For arts students they have generalist skills in spades.

Shireen: Yes, with an arts degree you can go into many different fields.

Student: In the past arts degrees were seen as a joke, they weren’t a tool to get you into a field, but now that has less potency.

Student: Some people still see it as a joke!

Student: You can change, as long as you have that degree you can fit your lifestyle around what you want to do with it.

Shireen: Absolutely! Network and connect with me online.

Slide10Shireen: Now let’s do an activity. Form some small groups, smile, introduce yourself and talk about what are some of the key relationships you can develop for your career now and in the future?




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