Learning how to network effectively

Learning how to network effectively

When Melissa Burns was studying at  the  University of Wollongong, she was also working as a manager at KFC. She might not have known it at the time, but in retrospect she was able to see that this is where her love for the people profession first blossomed.

“I found this role gave me valuable skills in customer service, problem solving, managing staff conflict, and learning about profit and loss, and business score cards,” she says.

While she felt she was on the right path at work, she couldn’t say the same for university.

“I majored in accounting, but working in the field didn’t feel like it was a career I wished to pursue further.”

After taking the time to reflect on the skills that she wanted to develop, and seeing a career coach, Melissa realised that a career in Human Resources was what would fulfil her.

Her first step into the world of Human Resources was as an HR administrator with CareSouth,  a local community-based organisation that  is committed to providing a positive future for children, young people and vulnerable individuals in the community. Melissa still works at CareSouth today, nearly four years since she started, but she’s held a few overseas roles in the interim.

“I moved to London for 12 months and worked in corporate offices which gave me the opportunity to see how this sector worked. My first role in London was at Norton Rose Fulbright as an HR Administrator. Then I moved into a role as a Learning and Development Officer at Slater and Gordon. When I arrived back in Australia, I was lucky to be able to return  to CareSouth in an HR Officer role where I now support our Corporate Services teams and work on HR specific projects.”

How to expand your circle

“I am very fortunate to work for a great organisation. We are lucky to be given the opportunity by our Head of People and Culture to grow our skills in areas that interest us.”

For Melissa, that’s meant taking a keen interest in HR analytics as well as working closely with the marketing team to refresh the company’s career offering. While Melissa was getting great development opportunities in her workplace, she felt as though she needed support in strengthening her external network.

Networking can be a daunting and, like many of us, Melissa was seeking advice on practical ways to make the most of networking opportunities when they arise. 

That’s something her mentor Renee Whiteside, People and Culture Leader at Mercer, was able to help with.

Melissa wanted Renee’s advice on making the most of networking events and knowing what to say when you get there – especially when you’re going it alone.

“She offered some great advice. She suggested that I think about the event I was going to and figure out the purpose of attending. For example, was I attending the event to:

    • Meet other people in a different discipline?
    • Discuss ideas and brainstorm with people?
    • Share the CareSouth brand?
  • Increase my employability by connecting with others in the industry?

“Renee said I should prepare myself before going to the event by doing things like calling ahead and asking for the attendance list to identify who I’d be interested in talking to. Another piece of advice was to connect with people I’d met on LinkedIn afterwards, and send them a message.”

Not only was Renee able to provide Melissa with valuable advice, she also tried to see if the other mentees in the group had any common themes which they could discuss.

“One mentee asked for advice around identifying the culture of her team. Renee explained the Interested Based Model/Interest Based bargaining. She said it isn’t only used for enterprise bargaining, but also for working out conflict or solving issues.”

After the walk, Renee shared resources about the Interested Based approach with all the mentees which Melissa says she will utilise in the future when dealing with conflict in the workplace.

“I not only learned about improving my networking skills, I also gained tips and advice on balancing your work and personal life, in particular when you have children. Renee also taught me about identifying my values and what’s important to me, and to prioritise those things.”

What Melissa enjoyed most about Mentor Walks was the opportunity to connect with and learn from women in different industries.

 “I think mentoring is important because you can learn valuable information and advice from someone who has been there and done that. It gives you an opportunity to brainstorm ideas, and look at a topic from a different perspective.”

 Do you  need help honing a skill or advice on solving a problem? Book into our first Wollongong Mentor Walks for 2020 on the 11th of March.

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