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Get ahead in your career with networking and mentorship

It’s not what you know; it’s who you know. Trite but true. Networking with the right people in your industry is key to progressing up the career ladder. And being a good networker is an essential skill to cultivate and develop.

How to start networking

The easiest way is to talk to colleagues about any industry-focused networking events they are attending and ask to tag along.

Join focus groups within your industry. Sign up to their newsletters, follow them on social media and be kept informed of any events they are planning.

Look at an industry calendar for any events like conferences, exhibitions, or award ceremonies. These events often have networking functions attached to them.

You are in – but now what?

For an introvert, a networking event can be a total nightmare, and even an outgoing person can find a roomful of strangers daunting. Doing your homework can make it easier.

Remember, it’s about them.

Find out who the top industry people are and if they are likely to be there. Read up on them and mention a speech or interview they gave recently. Look them up on LinkedIn.

They may have written articles you could ask them about or listed hobbies you can mention.

It’s also about you too

Once you’ve made the introduction, be quick! Practice your pitch beforehand, so you nail it in person. Explain your background and what you are looking for, whether you are job hunting, wanting to change careers or need an investor.

Afterwards, follow up with an email or LinkedIn message to thank them for their time. It’s polite and hopefully leads to another more extensive meet up.

Why a mentor is essential

Networking is important but can also be superficial. Cultivating meaningful relationships for professional development can last for years.

This is where a mentor comes in.

A mentor is an experienced and trusted advisor and, when developing your career and personal growth, can provide invaluable guidance based on their own experience. Ideally, you should hold regular one on one meetings with them to allow a significant friendship to grow.

Where to find a mentor, make the most of the experience

Enrol in your school’s or company’s mentorship programme. Talk to your company’s HR department and see what your business offers.

If there isn’t a formal mentorship program then you may have to create one yourself. Consider asking someone in your professional or even social network to mentor you.

But what you get out of your mentor relationship depends greatly on what you put into it. It’s a two-way relationship, so you must also do your bit.

As with networking, prepare beforehand. Create an agenda with issues that you would like to discuss. It could be a professional problem you are not sure how to handle, an industry situation you would like more information on or a personal career goal you need advice on.

But be prepared to hear things that challenge you. Your mentor may tell you to be less assertive in approach, exude more confidence or that you could have approached a situation differently. Avoid getting defensive, and be prepared to learn.

In the end, the mentor relationship is one where you get what you are willing to put in. Prepare, learn and grow!