Many people pursuing career paths in the hospitality industry tend to be naturally outgoing types that feel comfortable and confident interacting with others. Chances are, if you’re drawn to the idea of a job that lets you meet the public and chat up a broad cross-section of customers and guests, you’re no shrinking violet.
Sometimes, though, even those who are completely confident and at ease in familiar social settings may wither at the mere thought of trying to strategically apply these “people” skills in their professional life. For many, this is not an ability that comes naturally. Career experts call it networking, and it just may be the factor that could make or break your next interview or promotion opportunity.
Well, although the concept has picked up some negative connotations over the years, it basically refers to the practice of methodically cultivating, expanding, and maintaining a “network” of contacts in your field. Although the precise size and shape of your network will differ depending on your circumstances, this social/professional web typically encompasses current and former peers, subordinates, and supervisors, as well as a wide array of other contacts, acquaintances, team members, collaborators, partners, and associates.
In spite of the importance of the formal process of applying for jobs and promotions, recent research suggests that a surprisingly large number of hires and advancement opportunities are influenced by the candidate’s network. Indeed, according to job search guru Donald Asher, author of The Overnight Job Change Strategy and an array of other career-related titles, the breadth and strength of your network play a key role in determining the course -- and ultimately, the success -- of your career path.
Effective networking skills are often particularly important in fields like the hospitality industry, which are characterized by a high level of professional cross-pollination. When you’re a job seeker or a new hire, though, the prospect of trying to establish your own web of contacts can be intimidating. Here are some tips that will have you networking like an old pro in no time at all.
Seek Out Serendipity.
When it comes to network-building, there are no coincidences! Get in the habit of chit-chatting with others you meet in the grocery store express lane or in line at the post office. That harried shopper behind you just might have a second cousin in the HR department at your favorite boutique hotel. The connections you’ll make using this simple technique will definitely surprise you!
Some people associate the concept of networking with phony smiles, smarmy handshakes -- and insincerity. In truth, connections that are made using “hard sell” networking tactics rarely result in job offers or long-term career opportunities. Don’t feel compelled to take on a different personality or an overly aggressive attitude when you’re reaching out for new contacts. Be yourself, be sincere, and be friendly
It is vital that you take advantage of opportunities to get out in the community and meet new people, but if your heart isn’t in an activity or event, the people you encounter there will be able to tell. Think of each encounter as a new opportunity to grow your network, rather than reserving your stack of business cards for the annual convention.
A truly effective network is based on a shared, collaborative partnership between you and your contacts. If you are seeking benefits from your network without taking frequent opportunities to support and encourage your contacts in return, you may be unknowingly limiting your own opportunities.
Think of your network as a delicate vine that has taken months, or even years, to coax into bloom. If you let it languish without care or attention, it will surely begin to wither and fade. Keep your network alive through frequent interaction with your contacts -- the more meaningful and personal, the better. Eschew the once-a-year holiday mass mailings in favor of personal calls or letters throughout the year.
Like many ultimately rewarding things in life, networking is an acquired taste. Putting yourself “out there” professionally and opening yourself up to new connections can feel overwhelming and awkward at first. But once you’ve established the networking habit and begun to reap the rewards of having a vibrant, supportive community of peers, partners, contacts, and colleagues to fall back on, you won’t believe it took you so long to get started!