How to find a career-boosting mentor

Getting hold of a guest list and preparing conversation starters in advance can help you move on up

Just nine minutes a day is all you need to make your professional network more useful.

Finding a mentor or sponsor is a great way to climb the career ladder, but as many as four in ten women could be missing out by avoiding networking altogether.
In a recent study, 43 per cent of the women we polled said they felt uncomfortable networking with people they don’t know. Only a third of men felt the same – which might partly explain why the glass ceiling is still firmly intact.
As the world celebrates International Women’s Day this Sunday, encouraging women to invest in their professional networks and find their own career sponsors could make a big difference in the fight for equal pay and opportunities.
And the good news is, despite the bad rep it sometimes gets, networking doesn’t have to be time-consuming or a chore.

START WITH WHO YOU KNOW

Nurturing existing contacts is just as important as making new ones, so start by thinking about who you already know. Old bosses, colleagues and clients could all make useful contacts and mentors. But like any relationship, professional contacts need to be nurtured. Make networking part of your daily routine to ensure they don’t go stale; this might mean setting aside an hour a week to email old colleagues, or meeting former clients for a coffee once a month.

MAKING THE INTRODUCTION

Why make the first move yourself, if you can get someone else to do it for you? Having a connection in common can be a great way in, so once you’ve identified new connections that you’d like to make, use LinkedIn to find out if you have any shared connections who could introduce you.

JUST NINE MINUTES A DAY

Making networking part of your daily routine can pay dividends, but it doesn’t have to be a chore. We’ve found that spending just nine minutes a day on LinkedIn – updating your profile and joining industry groups – is all it takes to see a significant impact on the size and quality of your network.

DO YOUR RESEARCH

The internet is a mine of information, and finding that you have something in common with people you want to build a professional relationship with can be an easy foot in the door. A quick online search can tell you that you went to the same university or have a connection in common – and that’s networking gold dust.

IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT FACE TIME

If you’re nervous about meeting new people face-to-face, head online first. Industry forums, social networks and even emails are great first steps to making useful contacts.

BE PREPARED

If you’re going to be networking at an event, preparation is key to avoiding the dreaded awkward silence. Get hold of the guest list in advance so you can make a bee-line for the most relevant connections in the room, and prepare a few conversation starters so you have something to fall back on if conversation dries up.

END AS YOU MEAN TO GO ON

You only have one chance to make a good first impression, and all your good work can be undone if you make a bad exit. Say a proper “goodbye” and follow up the next day to make sure your new contact remembers you for all the right reasons.
Ngaire Moyes is a spokesperson for LinkedIn.

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