The Snitch

Just a little of everything HR

The Office Snitch: Network it, baby!

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I’ll be honest with you. Sometimes, just the thought of networking makes me so nervous I’d rather sit in the dentist’s chair on a ship during the perfect storm.

As I’m always dealing with HR practitioners, one question I’m often asked is: “How do HR people fare when it comes to networking?”

I think HR professionals have, over the course of time, been classified as introverted paper-pushers who only step out of their offices to fire someone or rob them of their laptop privileges.

Although I’ll admit HR folks I’ve met are slightly more reserved than the PR, marketing and creative teams I work with on an equally regular basis, calling them introverts is as far from the truth as possible.

HR leaders are networking daily with one of the most important groups of people they work with: the organisation’s employees themselves.

As the HR function continues to take on more strategic and critical roles within businesses, HR leaders find themselves making presentations, presenting cases and implementing policies. On top of that, they’re also dealing with a steady stream of employee queries, and transactional and admin duties. While your corporate comms and PR peers are busy managing relations with the outside world, HR is doing exactly the same with the internal audience.

Now, of course I have had my share of working with the slightly more reserved HR leaders. If you consider yourself one of them, fear not, I can help.

I’ve been a journalist for a while now (well, a year and a half, but if you think about it, that’s about a quarter of my working life), and dare I say I’ve picked up a couple of skills when it comes to the fine art of networking.

I remember the first event I had to cover. There I was, a nervous shell, thrown into the middle of one of the biggest HR summits of the year. All I had was a feeble list of questions, a voice recorder and my name cards.

I approached the first guy I saw standing alone with the cocktail nuts, flashed my biggest smile and said, “Hi, I’m Sabrina from Human Resources magazine. How are you? Is this your first time here? This is my first event and I’m so excited to be here!” all in one breath.

He smiled weakly, muttered something in response about where he worked, and then let the silence hang between us like an elephant suspended Mission Impossible-style from the ceiling.

On hindsight, approaching another introvert was probably not the wisest move. But over the next few months, as my then editor viciously scheduled me for event after event and interview after interview, I started to get the hang of things, and more importantly, I started getting comfortable.

There isn’t really a science to it, but there are a couple of things you can do to make networking less a pain, and more a gain.

Just do it

I’ve learnt the easiest way to get the ball rolling is just to jump right into it. Not quite in the same way I launched into my verbal diarrhoea that first time, but rather, take it a couple of sentences at a time (and remember to breathe).

Start off with a simple introduction, hear what your conversation partner(s) have to say, and then see how it goes from there. It never hurts to read up a little about the event you’re at to throw in a couple of facts to keep the conversation running. But chances are if you’re an introvert, you’re a good listener. Use that to your advantage and ask the other person about his job and what he does. Trust me, three times out of five, people love talking about themselves. Besides, you’ll never know who you’ve got standing in front of you and the opportunities that may arise.

Don’t force it

Unfortunately, there will be occasions where the conversation hits a block. Before you start rambling on about the weather or what you had for lunch (which will only add to the awkwardness, trust me), politely nip the conversation in the bud. “Well, it was nice meeting you. I’ll see you around” usually does the trick for me. Chances are, you partner has picked up on the lull and is thinking of ways to excuse himself anyway. You tried, but we can’t win them all. Move on to the next one.

Have fun with it

If anything, networking sessions are a great way to get away from the office, have a free cup of coffee and some croissants, while still getting work done. Consider it a casual opportunity to meet people, and don’t take it too seriously. One other thing I’ve learnt is you don’t always have to talk about work. As long as the conversation remains appropriate and professional, no harm’s been done. I’ve found I’m always more comfortable starting a conversation with something unrelated to work. In fact, I’m just as aware of my clients, interviewees and PR contacts’ holidays, children’s schooling, and favourite weekend restaurants as I am of their business initiatives, product launches and policy changes. Making sure your industry peers know you’re not just in it to get something out of them can sometimes get you more out of a meeting than just a dry, run of the mill business check in.

Today, I’m glad to say I’m able to hold my own at meetings big and small. Sure, there are days where I’d rather be in the office or nursing my coffee in a corner with my phone, but I’ve been around long enough (or at least I’d like to think so) to know that getting my hands dirty networking can be one of the most rewarding and informative aspects of the job.

Once you’re comfortable talking to people outside the organisation, getting those important conversations going with your employees and managers should be a breeze. Good luck at your next networking event, and let me know how it goes!

Written by Sabrina Zolkifi

April 27, 2012 at 11:16 am

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