By Mike Miele
When two actuaries meet for the first time, the dialog often starts by finding out where each person works, or used to work, to determine the people they may both know. Guess what? That was networking.
Networking has many misconceptions. Networking is often confused with selling something, which is typically not a core function for actuaries. It is also associated with asking people for favors. This article will describe networking in a way that will dispel many of the common misconceptions.
Networking is a skill, and like any skill, it can be mastered. Networking is about forming a connection between two people that then opens up each person’s personal networks to each other.
Networking is something we do in our personal lives. Everyone has a network. Our friends and family form the basis of our network. Think about how you form friendships. Most people form friendships by connecting with people that have something in common. For example, when our children were young, my wife and I kept seeing the same parents on the sidelines at various activities. Since almost every parent likes to talk about their children, that is a very easy way to establish a connection. When you think about it, connecting two families is a more difficult connection to make than anything in a business relationship. Why, you ask? In the example, there are three people on each side of the connection. For the network to form, two mothers, two fathers, and two kids all have to have some level of connectivity. If the fathers got along but the mothers did not connect, or the kids were fighting, it is very unlikely that network connection would take hold.
The way we network in our personal lives can be easily translated to business. The trick is to use the same technique. In our personal lives, the primary point of connecting with another person is to form a friendship. In business, it is no different. People often forget to develop a friendship with business colleagues. If your end goal is to make a sale to or get hired by an organization, the very first thing you must do is to establish a personal connection with someone in that organization. Selling works best when it is subtle and part of a broader connection. This is why conferences are such an excellent venue for salespeople. In most conferences, there are specific times allocated for networking.
Great networkers tend to be those that “give” more than they “take” from a connection. For example, if you helped your friends over the years get jobs, then when you need a job, you can tap that personal network of people that you helped over the years. I can’t tell you how many times I talk to people about helping them get a job and find out that in all of their years working, it never occurred to them to help others get jobs. Actuaries historically worked through recruiters to find their next job which prevents natural employment networks from forming. “I didn’t want to take a chance recommending someone, because it might not work out,” said another person. “Taking a chance” is the essence of how to establish connections. As any senior actuary knows, finding a senior position is more often found through a strong personal network rather than a recruiter.
Since networking is a skill that can be mastered, it takes practice to master it. A great way for actuaries to network is by setting up networking events in their city. Take all the actuaries you know that live in your geographic area and ask them to meet up for either a social event or a continuing education event. In either case, just about everyone likes to see friends or get more CE credit! If you schedule these events on a fairly regular basis (every three months), you will see the attendance grow very quickly. Why? Since people naturally want to make connections, providing a venue to make good connections will attract more people. In our city we have been having a social event every three to six months with tremendous turn out.
Since networking is a skill, I have included some tips to mastering the skill.
Tip number one. Don’t show up late to the party. At that point, everyone is already in his or her natural friend group. Often times, the “early bird” is easier to connect with. When you make an early connection, when each of your friends arrive, you can introduce each other. If you don’t know anyone, then the early bird technique is key. If you establish an early connection, when that person’s friends arrive, you will meet those people too. Be sensitive to how that is working. If you get the feeling that you are the fifth wheel, it’s because you are and you should move on to others.
Tip number two. People naturally want to talk, so let them. There is a reason you have two ears and only one mouth! I have found this technique to be extremely effective in a sales presentation. Often times, sales people feel they have to do all the talking as they present the features and benefits of their products and services. Often times, the prospect has a very specific need but is not willing to share that need without a little prodding.
Tip number three. Enjoy yourself. If you are forcing yourself to get out there and do it, success will be more difficult. The times I see this most is when a long-term employee loses their job and only then starts going to networking events. They had not spent the time building their personal network. More importantly, they are not offering anything to the connection. Having your hands out for help to people you have never met before is not a good way to build a strong connection.
Final Tip. Bring something to the table. Everyone has something to offer to others. More importantly, get your frame of mind aligned toward giving something to the connection rather than taking something from it.
Mike Miele is the Area President of the New York Metro Region for Gallagher Benefit Services, Inc. He is a recognized leader in the health care field with more than 25 years of experience.