When I joined the Southampton office I made the short trip from Portsmouth as I relocated into a one bedroom flat in the city centre. Having gone to Loughborough University, when I moved to Southampton I knew no one in the city. This was a daunting experience but I looked forward to setting myself up in a new place.
A great advantage of working for a firm of this size is that for the most part, on your first day, you’re joined by several other trainees. For me, I started on the same day as three auditors so already there were people in a similar position to me.
A social life at Grant Thornton is encouraged and I’m frequently meeting up with colleagues as part of my non-working life. However, I can’t hide the fact that I’m keen to meet people outside of these walls from other areas of the city.
As a means to find like-minded people, I started going to networking events. For a long time I have been hostile to networking, even the word I find difficult to get my head around. For me, the interaction between two people is an emotional one, and shouldn’t be about building a business network which you can call on when it suits. From experience, this hostility had proved to be misplaced as well as destructive.
Since overcoming my inhibitions, I am always looking out for the next young professional networking event. Out of the people I have met from competitor and complementary firms, I have made some good friends who I meet regularly outside of the networking scene. Overall, this only adds to my experience in a new place.
However, the inherent benefit of having a good network cannot be ignored. The saying “it’s not who you are, it’s who you know” is something I disagree with, but there is some truth in having good connections. As far as I’m concerned, the network isn’t about how many people you know; it’s about how many people know you. Will you be at the forefront of someone’s mind when they consider a business issue? If not, why not?
Now that I’m a couple of years into my career, I’m starting to see how useful it is to be known. When a person within your network considers you for something, it usually means there is an opportunity for you to do something. This sounds simple but in and out of work, this is vital to professional and social wellbeing.
What I failed to appreciate at University is that I was surrounded by people who are going to work in my industry around the country (and indeed the world). Whilst I had a great social life during my student days, I am first to admit that I’ve lost touch with too many of my peers. What I didn’t appreciate then is that the University years are possibly some of the best “networking” years around and that networking isn’t about specific events in a local bar, it’s about being, and staying, connected to people.
I now consider my current situation and could list way too many examples to fit into a blog as to why having a network is great for business. However, I prefer to forget that it could be like forced business communication and aim to engage in a relationship before considering the potential career advantages; to be a good business adviser, you have to be genuine and trusted – and that’s all about being yourself. If you can build rapport, the rest will follow.
This point is crucial for anyone who is studying and working towards a role at a professional services firm. You must be academically bright, but that’s now a given. To excel, you must have emotional intelligence – so don’t hide away in your room worrying about exams, get out there and generate your communication skills. There won’t be an exam for looking someone in the eye when you talk to them, but it’s extremely important for being a well-rounded individual.
So my advice for networking is to not look at it as a forced act, be open minded and be yourself. But most of all, start it and maintain it.