Learn, Connect, Inspire: The Power of Networking

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This is the fourth article in the Propel Her – Defence Women’s Leadership Series by Lyndsay Freeman and Shamsa Lea.

The term ‘networking’ will invariably turn some people off this topic – so we implore you to call it ‘relationship building’ or ‘collaboration’ so you don’t lose sight of the advantages that effective networking can have on your career.

Effective networking sees you ‘…building trustworthy and reliable relationships, communicating passions and connecting with people – not collecting people’ (Against The Wind). For ADF members, building this network of people you can learn from and share information and opportunities will be invaluable to both your ADF career, and beyond. According to LinkedIn, 85% of job positions are filled through referrals made from networking, so this statistic alone should convince you of its importance during your career.

As a leader, networking should be a normalised and practiced skill. Networking sets you up to build your personal brand, discover new career development opportunities, meet future colleagues, and create sponsors that can advocate for you during your career progression. It opens doors of opportunity for yourself, but most importantly for the people you lead who gain advantage from your extensive network.

Building relationships is key to effective networking. Networking itself shouldn’t be your end goal as your focus should be on pursuing deeper, long-term relationships built on a mutual exchange of value. It’s also important to build relationships before you need them, and maintain your confidence, sense of curiosity and ability to genuinely connect as you progress along your networking journey.

Here are some tips to get you started:

1.         Learn your value. 

For those who face self-imposed barriers stopping you from launching into networking or reaping benefits from it, you’re not alone. These barriers were identified in research published in Human Relations which revealed that feelings of hesitation and ‘gendered modesty’ prevent women from networking as effectively as their male counterparts. Women tend to have concerns that they are perceived to be exploiting networking ties, which means they consistently under-benefit from networking activities. The research also showed that women consistently underestimated their self-worth, and poorly represented their own professional contributions.

The fact of the matter is that you deserve a circle of inclusion and influence, and a solid network that can equal the playing field between you and others who already have support and sponsors. Going into networking with a mindset of ‘What value can I give to others?’ as opposed to ‘What do I want from others?’ will assist you in realising your own value, exhibiting your genuine self, and being known as a powerful resource as you build your connections. To truly know and understand your strengths/weaknesses, your personal brand and your “value proposition”, you may need to get advice from your mentors, team mates and trusted superiors. 

2.         Define your goals.

Networking is more effective when you network with a defined purpose and some short- and long-term networking goals. Consider which events or people you would like to reach out to, and what you hope to achieve for each connection. You may be seeking to make connections that will assist with a career change within or external to ADF, or to grow your specific skillset. Your goal might simply be to surround yourself with like-minded connections that you can share and grow with. Unless you have a clear idea of ‘what’ you want, you won’t be able to have the right conversations with the right people.  

3.         Network your way, in your style

Connecting with people can occur online (social media and via email) or in-person (attending events/conferences or courses, chatting with people you interact with daily, a phone call or video call). Whichever avenue you choose, make sure that the connections are a good fit for your career goals. Don’t focus all your attention on making multiple new connections, but maintain a focus on fostering and building on valuable existing connections.

In terms of social media, pick a platform and be as active as possible on it. Twitter and LinkedIn in particular are a great way to create and keep updated on your network, hear about conferences and seminars, and collaborate through sharing articles and resources. Lyndsay and Shamsa met through their LinkedIn network, discovered a mutual passion and went on to create this Defence Women’s Leadership Series! Don’t lose sight that the most effective form of networking is providing unsolicited value to your connections without the expectation of immediate return of the favour. Look for ways to introduce your connections to people that could help them achieve their career goals, and seek to forward information on potential opportunities to those in your network.

4.         Practice the skill of networking.

Networking is a skill you can improve over time, but the likelihood is that you’re already doing it – you just haven’t labelled it! Networking can consist of reaching out on social media, like your Corps/Specialisation Facebook page, to ask them more about an initiative they’re involved in, or getting the contact details of someone at the Mess to collaborate on a work task, or even exchanging and offering career advice with colleagues. 

The key to building these connections is finding a common interest or goal, and expanding on it by sharing information. Engage authentically, and immediately start to think about how you can create value for them during the first conversation.

Networking events can be very valuable – it’s like speed-dating where everyone is there for a specific purpose with a transparent agenda. Carefully select events that support your career development and show up knowing what you want to get out of the event. Be genuinely curious at the event, and listen with the intent of finding inspiration in other people’s experiences. When introducing yourself, try to avoid a ‘sales pitch’ where you deliver your job title and latest career achievement. Instead, speak about what value you bring and what you’re passionate about. Just be a thoughtful, engaging human and that is all the selling you’ll need.

5.         Follow up within three days.

The Three Day Rule is a powerful principle behind any relationship building. If you exchange details with someone, or get introduced to someone recommended for your network, send them a follow-up message within three days. The reality is that you and the people you connect with are busy, and won’t have enough time to keep everyone in their network active. So follow up regularly with connections who offer immediate mutual value, then keep your other connections logged as resources for you to call upon as your career goals evolve. 

Lastly, a word to women directly. Catherine Fox, the author of Women Kind (co-authored with a former RAAF Officer Dr Kirstin Ferguson) suggests that the power of networking should not be underestimated, and that women are naturally excellent networkers, but this skill is often trivialised as ‘chicks getting together for a gossip’. Networking is something women have always done successfully, but the idea they are incapable of it in a workplace setting says more about a male-preferred environment that excludes women, and is not a reflection of the lack of skills of women. Step over these preconceptions and give networking a try – you have nothing to lose!

Further resources:

●      ‘The Networking Advice No One Tells You’, by Bonnie Marcus for ForbesWomen

●      ‘Networking isn’t as scary as we think’, by Lauren Twine for the Young Australians in International Affairs (Career Insights).

●      ‘How to Network on LinkedIn Like a Pro’, by Syed Balkhi for business.com.

●      ‘10 Networking Tips To Help You Make A Great First Impression At An Event’, Forbes Magazine.

●      ‘It’s Who You Know: This is how to do networking that works’ and ‘How to network like a pro and build connections that matter’, by Janine Garner for Women’s Agenda. 

●      ‘The Dos and Don’ts of “Networking Coffee Dates”’, by Seher Shafiq for Hilborn Charity eNews. 

Suggested networking opportunities (do a search in your respective region):

●      Women’s Integrated Networking Groups (WINGS) – with links to regional networking events.

●      Australasian Women in Emergencies Network.

●      Women Veterans Network Australia (WVNA) connects past and present Women of Defence with resources, support and information.

●      Women in Defence and Security Network is part of Australian Strategic Policy Institute. 

●      #NatSecGirlSquad is an international group focusing on advancing diversity in foreign policy, national security, and defence. 

●     Soldier On holds the Pathways Networking Events which aim to connect service personnel, and their spouses, with potential employers. 

●      The CBR Gals Network is a community group and platform for women in Canberra to encourage and support them to collaborate.

About the authors

Lyndsay Freeman is a mother of two and a Transport Officer in the Australian Army. She is a Chief of Army Scholar for 2020 and is completing a Master of International Development Practice, specialising in Gender, Peace & Security, at Monash University. Lyndsay is passionate about the ADF’s pivotal role in advocating for women’s empowerment across the globe. Twitter: @LyndsayFreeman8.

Shamsa Lea is an Air Force Logistics Officer, leadership coach and sessional academic at University of Southern Queensland. She has been engaged in female recruitment, retention and progression activities in Defence for a number of years, with a specific interest in helping ADF women achieve their leadership potential. Twitter: @ShamsaLea.