Bill Konstantinidis from the Institute’s Leadership and Career Development Committee discusses how important it is to keep in touch with your professional network. He also shares his personal experience of ‘friendworking’ and the benefits to his career.
Friendworking – it’s like networking but only with your friends
Everyone tells us that networking is necessary for successful career development. We often see jobs being filled that we didn’t see advertised. Sometimes this is because a job was created for someone or alternatively they knew who would fit the bill.
A personal lesson
When I was 28 I got promoted to a senior management role. I was energised. I had made it another rung up the corporate ladder. I worked hard. I delivered. I smashed the targets. I buried myself in my work. At the age of 30, after a hostile company takeover, my world came crashing down. I was retrenched. What was I to do? My career had been on a steady upward trajectory. I knew I was good at my job and thought it would be easy to find a similar job but it wasn’t. I was left applying for jobs by submitting resumes in response to advertisements and I felt like just another number. I then realised that I had buried myself in work for so long that all my business connections had dried up. There was no one I could speak to about possible opportunities.
What did this teach me?
The lesson for me was “keep in touch”. Sometimes having a strong professional network is just as valuable as an impressive resume. It would be very beneficial if you knew a few people who can help you add a face to your candidate number. Since then I have consciously made an effort to reconnect with friends, old colleagues, industry friends and old university friends. I have invested time in people (and coffees). These are people I like so I don’t call it networking, I call it Friendworking.
Who to Friendwork with?
I generally catch up with people I like.
Some people you may enjoy catching up with are those that you have an existing connection with:
- previous school or university colleagues;
- previous and current work colleagues;
- people you have met at functions, weddings, parties or conferences;
- old bosses;
- communities you belong to or have belonged to (e.g. sport, religious, charities etc); and/or
- cultural, language and racial connections for those with a migrant background.
Basically you need some common ground to build on when you share a coffee.
Use your phone book, email address book, LinkedIn or Facebook to stimulate your memory to help prompt you to think who you would like to catch up with.
Why coffee and what if I don’t drink coffee?
Coming together over food is an age old custom. We see this in many religious celebrations and rights of passage. In my view, coffee is a smaller version of a meal that has significance which makes it more than a meeting. You don’t drink coffee so coffee shops don’t work for you – that’s a poor excuse! You can drink tea, hot chocolate, hot water, a caramel milkshake, cold water or a soft drink. It is more about getting into a neutral environment.
The general rule is sometime is better than no time. The people you really like – really often e.g. monthly, three monthly. The people you have less in common with maybe every two years.
How do I start?
Why don’t you commit to as little as one coffee catch up a week with someone you haven’t seen in a while?
It is important to book in advance to increase your success rate of getting a suitable meeting date. A week or two in advance works best.
- Pre-work, either for coffee or breakfast. Before work is good as booking time later in the day can get bumped by work priorities.
- If you have a meeting at the other end of town or in a different city and you have some contacts who work in the vicinity, try to plan a coffee catch-up before or after that meeting.
Acknowledge people when they get a new job or have a special event in their lives. Even if you don’t catch up with people face to face send them an email or call them to say hello and see how they are going. Nowadays you can also message them on LinkedIn. By doing this they will at least know that you exist and you cared enough to contact them.
Life often deals out opportunities and it is up to us to make the most of them. Without taking a risk you don’t get a return. We need to make the effort to talk to someone even if we may be fearful of whether they will acknowledge us favourably. When we run into someone we know on the street, at an airport, on a plane, on a train, on a bus or at a function, go up and say hello. A brief acknowledgement goes a long way and shows you care enough to make time to have a quick chat. I met my future employer at a wedding! I got my courage up and talked to a CEO of a major insurer and I was only an analyst. I had a job offer within the next fortnight. It’s the same with someone that you meet at the airport… they could be your future employer.
Expand your Friendwork
You may not have many friends since you did your actuarial studies, you worked hard and had no social life. Well you can build your Friendwork by:
- joining some social groups;
- join a public speakers group like Toastmasters;
- join community groups;
- use the Meetup application to see what groups meet in your area; and/or
- create your own group or committee e.g. Chess Friends /Chinese Actuaries.
What has Friendworking given me?
- The opportunity to learn about other people, culture and companies.
- I have been headhunted because people think of me when they are trying to fill a role.
- Having coffee with a friend is a safe place to de-stress from my work environment.
- I know when jobs become available so I can apply or put forward people I know.
- I have had the joy of helping people through work challenges and career decisions.
- I have the opportunity to use more experienced people as mentors which has helped me learn what I should do in my work and career
- It has allowed me to keep future employees warm.
- It has allowed me to keeps future employers warm. That is, they think of me when jobs come up. I have built trust – I am a known quantity – it is like a continuous interview
- I have someone to ask professional or market questions to.
The message I have is, catch up with your friends. The more people that know you and remember you, the more likely you will get that opportunity you have been looking for. It’s not hard, you just need to take the first step.
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