HRreview interviews: Charlotte Hallaways on HR networking

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Charlotte Hallaways 1According to new research commissioned by EY into the future of networking, in spite of the ever-growing availability of online networking tools, face-to-face contact remains the preferred way for professionals to network, with more than one in two professionals attending networking events in the UK last year.

Charlotte Hallaways is the founder and lead coordinator of myHRcareers, a London-based networking group focused on developing the careers of young HR practitioners. Since their first event in January 2014, the group has now grown to over two thousand members.

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What inspired you to start a group for young HR professionals?

When I joined the profession just over a year ago I quickly realised that there weren’t many opportunities for ‘newbies’ like me to network. Senior professionals get invited to events all the time, but those that really need the learning opportunity rarely get invited to them. When you do get the chance to go it can be quite overwhelming.

Are you asking the right questions? would the person you’re talking to prefer to be talking to someone more senior? Do you even know enough to have an opinion on the topics discussed?

The aim of starting myHRcareers was to support those coming into the profession and start giving them more opportunities to network and build confidence. It was really important to counter the staff nature of some groups and events where it’s about promotion or gaining something commercially.

We’ve created an environment that’s totally informal, and all about individual interests in HR. It makes our events and online network really vibrant and easy to join in with no matter what your level.

Has the popularity of the group surprised you?

Yes and no.

Yes because it grew so fast and keeps growing! We reached 1,000 members in just 6 months of launching the group and gain more members every day which we still get really excited about.

No, because we really did think there was a need among young professionals for this kind of community. I guess the snowballing popularity of it was a great confirmation of that need!

With so much social and online networking opportunities out there today, why is face-to-face networking still so popular?

Online networks are great ways to share information and build on existing relationships; sometimes even spark new ones, but nothing compares to face-to-face networking. We’re all so busy each day and attached to our phones & internet that I think it’s nice to actually meet people and see if you have a connection.

There are actually lots of people in our network who have purely connected through our online group. But I think something about knowing lots of us actually meet face to face makes people feel really safe.

Are companies doing enough to help their HR people improve their networking skills and opportunities

Most companies encourage networking, especially internally but I think more emphasis should be put on networking out of hours.There’s probably an old worry that your best employees will be out in the open where they could be offered other jobs and so on. But in reality the personal development benefits of external networking are so great that companies really can’t afford to overlook it. I think it should be an integral part of people’s personal development plans.

With the group now a year old, what have you learned about HR people?

They’re so passionate! There’s so much talk about the state of the HR profession, which tends to be seen negatively as a lack of confidence or ability. But in reality I see it as pure passion for the profession and a constant desire to improve the value we bring. I’ve really seen that with the network. Almost everyone I speak to has been keen to help and share their passion, expertise and time in some way. I don’t know any other profession where people care so much about the development of others.

There are plenty of people for whom the thought of networking in a room full of strangers is not a comfortable one. What advice would you give them?

Be yourself!

I think a lot of us assume a more formal version of ourselves when networking, and approach it as a ‘transactional’ thing. You can’t build an authentic network that way.You have to really be yourself and really focus on the individuals you’re talking to, not their companies or what you perceive their influence to be. Pursue conversations where there is a spark, and politely move on where there isn’t.

You almost need to approach it as though you’re making friends. If you don’t have a genuine connection with someone, no value will ever come out of any of the networking you do and subsequent opportunities you create. You can’t establish that connection if you’re not yourself. So, relax, be yourself and remember that everyone is in the same boat.

What was your networking highlight of 2014?

I’ve had a brilliant ‘induction’ to networking this year so it’s really hard to choose.I think the best was at our one year party – looking around to see what our community has grown into. Hearing our members’ networking highlights at that event and in the build-up was an incredible experience.

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