David Relph served as an officer in the Royal Artillery undertaking a blend of regimental duty, operational service, work in a headquarters staff job and a job in the Ministry of Defence. He left Sandhurst in 1994 and the army in 2010.
We spoke to David about how networking played its part in kick-starting his career journey.
What are the biggest challenges of networking?
"It’s all about the way in which you approach it and what you’re trying to get from it. If you approach it purely as a vehicle to get yourself a job, then that can create a barrier in itself as people think you are just there to help yourself and won’t feel that you have much else to talk about. I also think if you have an unrealistic idea of what you want to get from networking then you will be unsuccessful. My approach was to go to as many events in which I had a genuine interest and be open-minded about what happened when I got there. I never went with a particular agenda in mind, other than to meet new people and find out new things. If you simply come away with a little bit more information about something, that’s always helpful, and if you come away having made a couple of new relationships, even better.
“I’m not saying you can’t attend with a view to meeting someone you specifically want to connect with, but nobody likes to be put on the spot during the two minutes you may have to speak with them. I always try to think about the work or a discussion that I could have with that person to demonstrate some shared interest. Networking is about setting up the opportunity for a more substantive discussion, not to sell yourself for a job within those two minutes.”
It’s not about a specific agenda or topic, it’s about with whom can you develop the most positive relationship.
The world is increasingly becoming a virtual space. Has this hindered or helped you in developing your professional network?
“One online networking tool which has helped me enormously is twitter. There are other platforms, each of which have their own demographic, but twitter, much more than LinkedIn, has helped me develop my network. One specific example was a partnership in Sheffield who had this public health initiative called ‘Move More Week’ to encourage people to do more exercise. I saw somebody tweet about it and found the name of the person who had shared that information. He was the academic leader at Sheffield University so I contacted him on twitter saying I was interested to learn more. Within in ten minutes he had emailed me asking to meet up. Twitter really is the most rapid way of finding and connecting with people who have overlapping interests.”
What’s your best tip to taking multiple leads or insights from a networking situation?
“Follow your instincts to judge who you responded most positively to. The key thing in my experience is that it’s not about a specific agenda or topic, it’s about with whom can you develop the most positive relationship. Unless you have a very specific agenda, such as wanting a particular job in a certain organisation, in which case you may target someone specifically, I would prioritise my networking efforts on who I felt I connected with best on a mutual level. A lot of the work that has ended up coming my way has been stuff I hadn’t predicted at the outset but which has opened up as the relationship has become more positive over time.”