Keen to find a job, explore a new business idea or ignite your entrepreneurial spirit? Any of these can be made a whole lot easier with relationships, contacts and networks. While the idea of making such connections in a new city can be overwhelming and somewhat daunting, Singapore is a fabulous place for networking. There are many established organisations geared up for networking, plus enthusiastic and engaging people to meet. But how do we actually go about networking? Australian Shikha Gaur, who has lived, worked (she’s currently with Aon Hewitt Wealth Management) and networked here for ten years, offers her advice.
Networking can be a great source of ideas, information and feedback, and a way to build not just your own personal brand but also goodwill. Use networking to build and develop relationships – both personal and career-related – and as a way to build influence and develop a support structure. It may also open doors to cooperation and collaboration with people you may have never thought to connect with.
You’ve said Singapore is one of the best places in the world to network. Why?
Singapore has an environment that’s conducive to doing business, and this goes hand in hand with networking. It’s also a relatively small place. Often, you will meet someone who knows a friend or colleague of yours. This “two degrees of separation” is useful in creating an immediate shared connection and common ground. Many associations and other social and professional groups use networking activity to help them grow and be relevant. And the Asian approach to business is to network.
How do I find the right people to connect with in a room full of people?
Do your homework ahead of the event to find out “who is who in the zoo”. Use the trial and error method by speaking to a few people. Ask questions and ask for assistance, because more often than not the person you are speaking to will know of someone you hope to connect with.
Any tips for overcoming nervous jitters?
We all get nervous when walking into a room of people we don’t know. Try to go with someone who also has the intention of networking. Alternatively, attend a social event where you may feel more comfortable. If you’re alone, count to 10 to steady yourself, and find someone who looks friendly. And remember: everyone in the room is in the same boat as you.
What’s the best way to start or end a conversation?
Simply introduce yourself, “Hi, my name is Shikha. Are you enjoying the evening?” If you have attended a session where there is a speaker, make a comment about the session. If you’re attending a session involving a particular group or industry, be abreast of the hot topics and challenges that the community may be facing, so you can ask relevant questions and make appropriate comments.
To remove yourself, simply excuse yourself politely. For example, mention that you need to get back to the people you came with, or that you need to find someone in particular – even that you’re here to network so you will continue to keep moving. Another suggestion is to connect the person or people you are having a conversation with to someone else.
What are some of the ways that people use networking to their advantage?
• Finding a first job, establishing or developing a career, or testing a career change.
• Promoting and expanding a business.
• Increasing knowledge and awareness to ensure skills are relevant.
• Testing out concepts – for example, when starting up a new business.
• Creating a support group, finding a mentor or being a mentor.
• Meeting people to build connections with and developing stronger relationships.
What are some strategies for good networking?
• Identify opportunities, events and moments to network either formally or informally.
• Set goals. That does not mean “collect 100 business cards this evening”; rather, it means “meet three new people this evening” or “have a couple of meaningful conversations”.
• Know how to start conversations, facilitate them and build on them. Ask questions, listen and discover. Focus on areas of common ground.
• Connect and introduce others. Networking is not just self-serving.
• Demonstrate etiquette, both when promoting your own services and when you’re being pitched to.
• Be approachable – and smile.
• Don’t be afraid to show your personality.
• Speak to anyone and everyone – you just never know who you will meet.
• Understand the value of patience, longevity and persistence.
• It’s generally agreed that networking success is more likely if your attitude is, “What can I offer this person?” rather than “What I can gain?”
What are your tips for networking via online sites such as LinkedIn (without appearing like a stalker!)?
1. Always be courteous. For example, when connecting with people, ask for permission and have a valid reason – for example, “We met at the networking event last week and learnt that we attended the same university.”
2. Maintain a presence, be active and log on regularly. Remember to continue to connect with people after the initial interaction.
3. Post meaningful information and comments that demonstrate your knowledge and area of expertise. This is particularly important in a forum like LinkedIn. Be mindful, too, of what you post on social forums – use them to work towards building your credibility and professionalism.
Any do’s and don’ts in a group mingling situation?
• Make sure you facilitate the introductions for the group, so everyone knows each other. This also helps people to remember names.
• Be inclusive. Don’t obviously leave people out.
• Give others the opportunity to speak. Be respectful.
• Don’t only talk about yourself. Ask questions.
• Don’t drink too much.
Where to network
– Singapore Business and Professional Women Association
– Athena Network