How to build a professional network in London

How to develop a professional network in London
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Updated 2021-08-25 09:53

According to Glassdoor, one of the biggest recruiting sites in the world, over 80% of vacancies in today's job market are not advertised, and people get to them by word of mouth. So, if you are always too busy to attend networking events, retreats, talks, and seminars, or you feel overly exposed when socialising, think of all the opportunities you might be missing by not being present. London offers many different types of networking events, from casual gatherings in the pub to university alumni programs and conferences dedicated to specific sectors. Are you ready to sharpen your networking skills and take your career to the next level while in London?

Networking etiquette

Networking events are an excellent opportunity for you to understand who you are, what you expect from your career, and what you would like to achieve in the future. Often, we think we already know the answers to these questions; however, when we have to verbalise our thoughts in front of others, we may find out that we are confused or uncertain. In any case, being nervous at your first networking event is normal, especially if English isn't your first language, and you are still trying to understand the rhythms of London and adapt to the new lifestyle. Here are some networking etiquette tips to help you positively present yourself and land your dream job in London.

  • In a networking event, regardless of where in the world it takes place, you want to be yourself and feel comfortable in your skin. Remember, your actions reflect your personality and you don't want to come across as rude. So, never cut a person off when they are in the middle of speaking. Also, try to keep your mobile phone out of sight and in silent mode, and don't take any calls unless they are urgent.
  • Don't be argumentative or highly opinionated in networking events, as this is not the right place or time to start a debate. Remember that everyone is entitled to an opinion, and be careful when expressing extreme thoughts, as you may offend others (and lose them from your contacts list). Also, as an expat, don't generalise about the people in London, and don't be judgemental about the way they do business, and the London work ethics that might be different to what you have been used to before moving to London.
  • At networking events, you have to give to get. So always approach people thinking how you can help them or connect them with someone you know who would be interested in their profile. As an expat, remember that you have one additional benefit: you have an international network.
  • Before arriving at a networking event, set your goals and know what you are looking for. Also, carry your business card with you in English to hand it in to those interested.
  • Don't use the first names of the people you meet unless they have permitted you to do so.
  • Bearing in mind that the first impression is the most lasting, dress in neutral colours, wear clean shoes, and groom your hair. Make sure you have confirmed in advance whether the organisers of the event have set a dress code.

Good to know:

Londoners have developed what is known as 'pub culture.' Hence, a lot of professional networking takes place in pubs near offices.

Remote networking

Due to the COVID-19 protective measures, professional networking has taken a different shape. Even though face-to-face meetings stopped happening, engagement among colleagues didn't cease thanks to technology tools and humanity's persistence for interaction and exchange of ideas, experiences, and knowledge. In fact, during the pandemic, it was more likely to work and (virtually) meet with people from different parts of the world and expand your professional network through online meetings and virtual networking events.

The networking etiquette doesn't change massively between face-to-face and online meetings, and politeness remains key. However, some bits and bobs will help you get the best out of online events and add new professional contacts to your list of contacts for future reference. For example, at the beginning of the online event, introduce yourself in a few words and don't oversell your skills and qualifications. When other people take turns to introduce themselves, listen carefully, keep notes with questions to ask when given the opportunity, and most importantly, don't interrupt, use your phone or work on other tasks.

As with face-to-face meetings, some attendees may feel shy or uncomfortable voicing their opinions. Hence, you can start with an informal conversation, which will help you connect and build a rapport with the other person, thereby boosting engagement. Remember that not all people have the same personality, and some may need more time to open up than their outspoken colleagues.

Attend online networking meetings from a quiet area with your other electronic devices on silent. Last but not least, join the meeting prepared with a plan about what you will bring to the meeting.

Important:

Don't neglect the dress code despite being seen partially on camera.

Corporate culture

In London, even more than in other parts of England, employees and executives are very time conscious and value time when doing business-related activities, such as meetings, networking events, workshops, etc. So, when you have an appointment, if you want to be professional and respectful, you should either arrive on time or just before. If you arrive late for a business meeting, it's impolite, unless you have a serious excuse, which you can present with an apology. If you know in advance that you will be running late, call ahead to apologise and give a timeframe of how late you will be, or reschedule the meeting for a new time and day.

British business etiquette doesn't praise gift-giving, and some companies explicitly prohibit the acceptance of gifts on a legal basis. However, when gifts are received or offered, they should be neither too expensive (bribe) nor too inexpensive (insult). If you receive a gift in public, you should open it immediately and express your gratitude. Also, if you have been invited to your colleague's house for dinner or to a party, bring something to show your appreciation, such as a bottle of good wine.

In London's business environment, conservative attire with dark and neutral colours is the norm. If you are attending a particular business event, and you are unsure about the dress code, it's advisable to go overdressed rather than be casual. However, most companies have established Fridays to be dress-down days, when employees can bring their style in the office, as long as it's not offensive towards their colleagues and doesn't overlook the professional context. If you are working for a start-up company, it's most likely that the dress code will be casual, and you will have the freedom to get creative with the items in your wardrobe.

Londoners use social media extensively for networking purposes, especially Twitter and Linkedin. Facebook is mostly used for personal connections and casual socialising, and many companies block the website in the workplace to prevent employees from being distracted.

At business meetings or interviews, shake hands with everyone in the room when you arrive and leave. However, keep your handshake light, as the British aren't affectionate in public and don't like being touched, hugged, or kissed by non-family members or people who aren't very close friends. Keep in mind that the British respect personal space, so don't stand too close to your colleagues and don't stare at other people (even if it's to admire their chic suit).

Useful links:

Event Brite

Urbanonetwork

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