Getting connected

THERE can be few things quite as daunting, whatever your walk of life, as facing a room full of strangers whose sole purpose of being there is to make business connections when you are currently unemployed.

The third challenge to face our band of Executive Springboarders as we continue to progress through the Chamber programme is the thorny issue of networking. In our previous lives most of us had solid contacts books, were almost certainly likely to know someone to rub elbows with at a business function; and had the confidence to introduce ourselves to strangers in the knowledge that we had the safety net of ‘work chat’ to fall back on.

Let’s face it, networking is absolutely essential. Getting to know people, what they do and what they need, is the fastest way to build connections – and nothing beats face-to-face interaction.

We all know the importance of creating that first impression. Countering the need to identify and progress new leads is the uncomfortable reality of trying to integrate yourself with an entirely new group.

Something as simple as knowing how to start a conversation, or interrupt one that sounds interesting to you, can feel quite daunting when your confidence is low and some people may even bow out of an event as a result rather than feel like the only awkward one in the room.

For many of us on the programme, when we lost our jobs we also lost the infrastructure that connected us to our networks, in some cases because the companies we worked for in oil and gas went out of business.

With recruitment in the industry so difficult; and a large number of experienced, senior personnel competing for the same small number of available positions, what most of us want is to find a wider network of support and the ability to gain access to a new group of professionals in other sectors.

Quite a few of our number are actively seeking opportunities outwith oil and gas.

Gaining a better insight into local businesses in adjacent and often radically different sectors is a tricky ask when your connections are limited but through the programme we have been taught the tricks of successful networkers.

How to approach complete strangers in a natural way, how to follow up and get past the gatekeeper, the benefits of asking the right ‘open’ questions’ and, critically, developing the perfect pitch for building on these connections going forward.

Getting the most out of networking events takes practice. As part of the Executive Springboard we were all given the opportunity to attend one of the Chamber’s popular Business Breakfasts.

Over 100 potential new business contacts from a cross-section of North-east industries together in one room – and more importantly, the chance to tap into the wider network of contacts that come with them. Armed with our newly-honed skills, it’s up to us to make the most of it.

Supported by the Transition Training Fund, the Executive Springboard aims to help middle and senior managers who lost their jobs in the downturn find new pathways into employment.