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Insights from practitioners in Information Management

Issue 64 – Networking

From everyone at IEA, we hope that you have a safe and happy festive season, and we look forward to speaking and working with you again in the New Year.

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In this issue we will look at:
• Functions: Which should you attend?
• Planning and preparation
• OPALs
• A Thought to ponder.

Functions: Which should you attend?
December is that time of year when there are more functions than time, so it is important to plan wisely which events you are planning on attending, and more importantly the reason why you are planning on attending.

What are your reasons for attending?
If your sole reason for going is to eat, drink and be merry then please remember:

If you are working on contract through an employment agency such as ours, please bear in mind that you are a representative of that organisation and we respectfully ask that you present yourself in a professional manner at all times – Remember, Perth is a very small place, and the library, records and information industry a microcosm of that. So:

• Eat something before the event, this slows down the absorption of alcohol into the blood stream;
• Recognise that the influence of alcohol may boost your confidence levels. Whilst everyone reacts differently to alcohol, in general terms, too much alcohol can give rise to inappropriate behaviour. People tend to speak more loudly, usually on inappropriate matters (mass joke telling for instance); and people have been known to “tell it like it is” when under the influence of alcohol. Of course this can be a good or a bad thing depending on who hears at the time of course. But sometimes discretion is the key. And please it should go without saying, but I will say it anyway,
• Do not drink and drive.

However, consider that you have almost an entire month to further your networking opportunities, it might be worth saving your alcohol consumption for after the event.

And the reason is simple: New Year.

With the New Year comes an opportunity to dust off the old New Year’s “Revolutions” list and start to work on those items of importance to you.

At the top of most people’s list (after lose weight and exercise more) is to earn more money or get a better job. So what better place to find out if there are opportunities available than at a meeting of professional people at a networking function.

Take copious amounts of business cards so that you can exchange with people of interest.

But a couple of caveats are important:
• Giving out and receiving business cards does not constitute networking.  Focus on quality contacts, not quantity. How will you know if you have met a prospective client, future employer or partner if you simply gather up a business card and dash off to meet the next victim? Spend a few minutes speaking to the person, but and here is a key to making a good networking connection – find out what the persons business is and ask how you can help him/her. And you thought it was to tell everyone about you and your needs didn’t you. Well I hate to burst a bubble, but everyone (with a few exceptions) likes to speak about themselves. So, ask a series of questions about whether their work is going well, are they having particular staffing issues? Ask what challenges they are currently facing and so on. If you promise to send your network colleague something, then please remember to do so and preferably within 48 hours of the meeting. This is important as people tend to forget names and faces very quickly if you don’t. It’s no good waiting 3 weeks to send them a copy of your CV for instance if they’re most pressing need was for someone – tomorrow, preferably today.
• Make sure your business cards are clean and up to date. There is nothing worse than fishing your business cards out of your pocket only to find they are dirty, scrunched up and have the wrong contact information on them. 

Planning and preparation

Planning and preparation before you start networking is important.

• Work out in advance what events you would like to go to;
• Work out those events that you need to be going to. And sometimes they are not the same thing.
• If you do want to eat, drink and be very merry with your old and new friends, may I tactfully suggest you find an alternative venue so that you don’t compromise your future employment prospects. As I mentioned, Perth is a very small place and people do talk.
• If you are going to be looking for a new job in the not too distant future, please make sure your CV is up to date. I know I say this on a regular basis, but it is important. Your CV is be a working document and should updated after you have completed courses of study, gained a promotion, changed positions, changed your referees, joined a professional body or whatever else you have achieved throughout the year. But don’t take a copy with you; that would be too presumptuous. Take names and details and offer to send it on after the event. And then make a note on the back of the business card, what you have promised to send them. It takes a few seconds to do this, and will save you endless embarrassing moments when you realise that you’ve sent the wrong things to the wrong person.

Mastering the art of the first impression
One of the biggest blunders people make when going to “work do’s” and Christmas time networking functions is the style of dress they choose. If in doubt, err on the side of caution, and err on the side of over-dressed rather than casual. I know, I know sometimes I can sound like your mother can’t I. But after a lifetime of watching people, I am still amazed at what people will wear to work.

A good case in point.

Monday morning, a typical working day. I was early for an appointment so was sitting waiting, and doing my usual people observation – ok, I was being nosy. But what I saw was interesting.

Unwashed hair (a real no-no); wet hair scraped back into pony tails which looked a little better, and I have to confess that I’ve been there and done that once or twice till I had it cut off again. Some of the younger females were wearing “fashion” items. Hipster trousers with t-shirts stretched over the gap. Short skirts and bare legs, neither of which are predominantly bad on their own, just as an overall image, white legs that need some gym work is not the best look. But even more interesting was the lack of ironing and shoe cleaning.

Of the 3 dozen or so people I managed to observe that day, there was 1 youngish gentleman (late 20’s) who was impeccably dressed – dark grey trousers, long sleeve pale pink shirt and a tie, black shoes and a briefcase and laptop in hand. The other was an elderly matriarch. Iron grey hair, scalp plaited down her back. Black pants, sandals and a short sleeved lemon jacket. She was carrying a bit of excess weight, but the overall image was definitely nine and a half out of 10.

Now, before you complain to me that you don’t have the time to dress up every day, I will counter with “you will find time to do what you want to do”. If your job hinged on looking the part – would you still have a job looking like you do today? Imagine then being told this morning that the organisation you were working for were going through a bad time and you needed to apply for your own job – today – would you look the part enough to make a good impression, or have you stopped making that kind of effort.

But what of “do’s” that aren’t on client premises?

It depends on the organisation that you work for, but I would suggest that if work are paying then you are still representing your organisation and to dress appropriately. For those of you who do know me personally will know I have a rather large and eclectic wardrobe. But I have clear demarcation lines. I have a personal “uniform” of classic business wear, plus some more casual business attire. So, suits, jackets, separates etc, and won’t wear the more interesting pieces in the working environment, or when I am representing the organisation.

But I do know that that is a personal choice, and of course it is up to you what you wear, assuming you don’t have an official uniform. But I know that if I can get away with classic business wear, stockings and heels on a refinery site (granted in the admin block) then anything is possible.

OPAL’s
There is another aspect to networking that we have not yet covered in this issue, and that relates to those of us who work on our own. I am of course talking about the one person librarians. Networking and social events are an essential part of keeping in touch with like-minded people. Networks, mentors and peer groups can help us keep up to date with what is happening in our industries. As we discussed last month in the sharing information and knowledge, people who have been there and done that can shorten our own data/information/knowledge cycle dramatically.

As an OPAL these kinds of meetings are useful because we can get:
Referrals, Explore business opportunities with other organisations and develop business skills that we may struggle to develop during our normal business days.
Always worth thinking about as you work in your social calendar into your networking one.

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A Thought to Ponder
“If you explore beneath shyness or party chit-chat, you can sometimes turn a dull exchange into an intriguing one. I’ve found this to be particularly true in the case of professors or intellectuals, who are full of fascinating information, but need encouragement before they’ll divulge it.”
Joyce Carol Oates (1938 – )
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