Tips from a professional networker

August 2023

7 Tips to Become a Better Networker 

Every good networker has a story to tell. We’ve had a conversation with Kjartan Bjerre-Christensen, who is an independent consultant in the pharma and healthcare industry, about his route to becoming a “fairly decent” networker.

People who know Kjartan may think of him as a talented networker. But it was not always like that. Kjartan had to get out of his own way to become a better networker. “Especially two incidents have formed my approach to networking. I had to actively change my approach because staying in the comfort of what was natural for me was limiting my possibilities of moving my life in the desired direction,“ he explains.

Kjartan’s 7 networking tips and tricks

Kjartan’s personal experiences and preferred approaches can be summed up in seven tips and tricks that may eventually inspire your networking efforts:

1. Step out of that corner

“I am an introvert, and in the early years of my professional career I was more comfortable standing in the corner, observing people. I made an active decision, though, to step out of my comfort zone and enter the conversation instead of being a bystander.

The decision to put myself out there was an important game changer for me and over the years I’ve improved my skills at what I call professional small talk. So whereas social small talk is still quite uncomfortable – and uninteresting – to me, I now know how to change the focus of the conversation and make it about latest news in the industry, people’s professional background, career moves, or things like that.”

2. Build two networks in parallel

“My next learning point came a bit later. I had found my preferred approach to networking and my professional network was strong. At least as long as I stayed where I was. Because a planned career move made it clear to me, that my professional network was mostly defined by my activities in a company where I no longer worked.

I had been preoccupied with building a network that added value to the business and I realized that as a precaution I should also build a network not directly related to the company I worked for.

That was an eye opener for me and since then I’ve made it a habit to nurture two sets of professional networks. There is an overlap between the two, but one is in direct relation to my current job position whereas the other one is related to my own professional interests and development.”

3. Be decent and reach out

“I feel committed to people in my network. And to me it’s not only a matter of responding if someone asks me directly. To reach out to someone whom I know is “looking for new opportunities” is the least I can do. Sometimes a coffee and a chat can inspire that person. And sometimes even the invitation in itself can be comforting and motivating. You don’t always know how you can add value, but that shouldn’t stop you from reaching out. I consider that an act of decency.”

4. Allow people to add value

“I think another important part of networking is to actively invite people in. Most people love to help but sometimes an invitation to do so is required. Back in 2009 when I started my own business, I reached out to people in my network and asked if they would meet with me. I wanted to sharpen my service offerings and my new role as a consultant.

Getting feedback from people who represented my target audience was valuable input for me. And of course everyone responded positively. By nature we want to make a difference. Make no mistake, even if you are the one “in need,” asking for help gives people an ability to add value.”

5. Make them coffee breaks count

“I attend quite many half-day seminars and other types of professional meetings. Of course the subject has to be of some relevance but to be honest, the most important part is the coffee breaks. That’s where I get an opportunity to catch up with people, build new relations and sense what’s on the agenda just now. Even a slightly boring meeting can be of high value as long as you know how to make those important coffee breaks count.”

6. Be picky: Less is more

“LinkedIn is where I keep track of my network. That way I always have the most recent information about people. I have quite many connections and never delete people. You never know when you can be of help to someone or the other way around. But I am fairly picky with whom I connect with and quantity is by no means a quality in itself in my book. I would rather have 150 people close to me than 1500 connections that I don’t know anything about.”

7. Physical versus online participation

"Networking is more challenging if you only stick to online meetings, seminars and courses. It's harder to read body language and informal signals that are otherwise visible when you interact in the real world.

I've been a moderator at several Atrium courses, and in this capacity, I've noticed that while online participation works well in terms of subject-related takeaways the people who were physically present also experienceda extra benefit from the discussions and interactions with the other attendees,.

Professional discussion is a cornerstone of the networking process: You do not necessarily remember a person from small pop-up window at the bottom of the screen – compared to a person you've shaken hands with and had a real human interaction with. Therefore, it would be a good idea to prioritize physical participation if you can."

Networking tips and tricks
Kjartan Bjerre-Christensen (Foto: Christian Krog)

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