Networking is essential to creating a satisfying and sustainable career in international development or humanitarian aid work. But, don’t take my word for it: you can listen to the first 99 episodes of the Terms of Reference Podcast (dedicated to this topic), or you can get my analysis of the same in the eBook “Making It” (click here) and hear, first hand, from other development and aid professionals about how networking has been integral to their careers.
Networking is something basically everyone hates. But, some people figure out how to make it work for them and the very rare do it naturally and effortlessly. There’s a ton of advice out there about how to network with confidence. For example, this recent article on DevEx titled The students guide to networking, where the author offers up eight tips that include:
- Connecting in person
- Make sure you’re prepared
- Have your elevator pitch down
- Listen and engage
- Ask for peoples’ cards or contact information
- Connect on social media with the companies you’ve talked to
- Take copies of your CV with you
I’m not writing this as a take down of the DevEx article, because these tips are solid for anyone wading into a situation where there will be potential gigs on the table. But, in my experience as an employer for the past 10 years, this list is missing the absolute most important thing to do when you finally find yourself in front of someone who makes hiring decisions (I’m specific about this individual because if you’re talking with first level recruiters who are just collecting CVs, etc. its a slightly different story).
But here’s the missing piece: Ask how you can help or contribute.
We are all overworked. There is always too much to do, too little time and to little funding. The smaller the organization, usually, the more acute these problems are. People like me who are looking for the next star talent are interested in individuals who can solve problems. Specifically, the problems we’re dealing with right now, or know are coming in the very near future.
By asking how you can help, you’re indicating that you’re not only interested in the organization, but you’re also willing to roll your sleeves up and do what it takes to keep the ship afloat, or the project running, or get the proposal out the door. But at an even deeper level, you’re showing off the one skill that is fundamental to the social sector. You’re interested in learning about what the most important problems are for the community you’re seeking to serve, and then designing solutions that not only work, but are appropriate.
So, get out there and network, network, network. But remember, the most successful network builders understand that isn’t really about them. Its about how they can help others.