How to build relationships that will sustain you
There’s an African proverb about the power of collaboration; “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others”.
One of the most important skills to develop across our personal and professional lives is the ability to build relationships. This directly contributes to our sense of well-being and belonging and enables us to also benefit from support when we need it. So, just as we consciously build our professional knowledge and achievements, we also need to devote time and thought to developing and maintaining our networks.
The prospect of networking can sometimes feel daunting, especially at the beginning of your professional journey where you may feel that you don’t have much to offer. But starting to build your network as a student is the perfect time to develop the relationships that will sustain you across your career.
Networking can sometimes seem challenging because there are many myths and misconceptions about what it involves. Caroline Evans, Director of corporate governance consultancy, MindLeap, partners with several organisations, connects and collaborates across the corporate governance community providing expert practical advice and support. She says, “I wish it wasn’t called networking because it shouldn’t be treated as ‘work’. It’s simply relationship building - something we do all the time and in every aspect of our lives. It does take practice but it does get easier and the value of a supportive network should never be underestimated”.
Julia Hobsbawm, founder of knowledge network editorialintelligence.com and Honorary Visiting Professor of Networking at CASS, provides some practical insights into developing our connections with others. She observes that, “Networking is not a way of selling yourself, selling a company or working the room. It is about building relationships for the long term and creating fitness around who you know”.
Julia has pioneered the concept of social health as a way of explaining how, in these hyper-connected times, we need to look after our social well-being just as much as we keep ourselves physically healthy. Being mindful of our social health is a way of ensuring that our relationships are real, intimate and productive. Julia comments that, “One of the myths about networking is that you have to be an extrovert. However, this is not true”. She maintains that everyone is shy and has insecurities and the idea of going into a room full of strangers to make professional connections can seem overwhelming. But it’s the quality of our interactions, not the quantity that matters. “All you need to achieve is to make a point of human connection. Don’t worry about everyone else”.
"One of the great benefits of attending events is that you get to meet people from a variety of industries."
As a student on the professional qualification the connections that you make can support you in both your learning and your work. Bhavini Kundaiker, Assistant Company Secretary at AngloGold Ashanti and member of the ICSA Student Forum, comments that, “For many of us, the journey to qualifying can be isolating, especially if there isn’t a student team at work that you can bond with. Forming relationships with other students can make a huge difference. It can be very reassuring to discuss your challenges and concerns with like-minded people going through the same experience. It’s also energising and inspiring to meet people who you may even be sitting next to one day in a new job”.
Bhavini continues, “Networking has made a big difference to me both as a student and professionally through a connection that I made at a Worshipful Company of Chartered Secretaries (WCCSA) event. I was telling people there how hard I was finding it to secure a part-time job in the company secretarial field. A week later I got an email about a prospective role from someone who’d remembered me and wanted to help. I applied and got it, but would not have found it on my own”.
Henal Patel, President of the Association of Women Company Secretaries (AWCS), encourages students to network to broaden their career perspectives. She says, “One of the great benefits of attending events is that you get to meet people from a variety of industries. The opportunity to learn and connect with people from different backgrounds and levels of experience will broaden your understanding of what a career in governance can offer, and could even lead to new opportunities for you”.
Samira Chambas, part of the Company Secretariat Team at Aviva and Student Forum member agrees, saying, “You never know what is out there until you speak to people and get an insight into what they do, how they do it and why they do it”.
Samira participates in a wide range of events and networks and online forums where she builds her profile by guiding and supporting others. She offers five practical tips for students building their networks:
- Consider the bigger picture – what are you looking for? A mentor, a friend, a job? Think it through and work towards it.
- Establish your profile – have a good Linkedln account and follow people who inspire you and who you aspire to be like, engage with them and let them notice you.
- Attend events – there are lots of networking and professional development groups in the company secretarial and governance field. Some are free while others you have to pay to attend. Either way, a network can’t have a price on it and your employer may be happy to support you.
- Reinforce relationships – be sure to connect with at least three new people after each networking event or moment and follow up on those relationships.
- Seize the opportunity – you do not necessarily need to attend an event to meet like-minded people. A connection can be made on the train, at work or even at the till.
ICSA’s Head of Membership, Jane Galbraith, believes that the opportunity to develop a strong network is part of the unique value that membership offers. She says that “it’s important to remember that being an ICSA student will open the door to a supportive community of professionals as well as developing your governance credentials. I strongly recommend all our students to not just see ICSA as a qualification provider but to make the most of all that we can offer you though participating in our student events, local branch networks and mentoring scheme. I am in no doubt that ICSA membership can help students establish their careers in
governance; we’re proud that our members can go further together”.
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