Connect Four: Top networking tips from a Civil Service Awards winner

The Junior Leaders Networking Events Team won the Developing and Supporting People Award at the 2022 Civil Service Awards. Funke Oham offers civil servants advice on how to network effectively and leave a lasting impression on colleagues
The Civil Service Award-winning JLNE Team. Funke Oham, fourth from left

By Funke Oham

16 Jan 2023

In the Junior Leaders Networking Events Team, we are passionate about learning, skills development and strengthening capability. One way we do this is through our networking opportunities.

Whatever your career stage, as you kick off the new year, now is a good time to reflect on why, where, when and how you plan to network. Here are our top four tips on making the most from your networking opportunities in 2023.


One analogy suggested individuals can use their money as follows: spend some, save some and invest some. This can apply to networking. Networking can be approached from either of these angles or a combination; networking based on one’s current needs, future needs or on the needs of others in our circle. Being aware of the benefits networking can have on your personal and professional development can keep you motivated when networking seems arduous.

Networking is your chance to shine. American businesswoman Christine Comaford describes it as marketing – marketing yourself, your uniqueness and what you stand for.

If you ever feel like backing away from a chance to network, here is a reminder: you are worth seeing. Network today, network tomorrow and network in the future.


It is important to consider traditional and non-traditional networking opportunities.  New to networking? Some ideas include career events, Civil Service Live, professional associations, departmental events, public speaking events, staff networks, alumni events, volunteering, social events and continuous professional development events. This can be done in-person and virtually. Social outlets including LinkedIn and Twitter are also great places to network.

"If you ever feel like backing away from a chance to network, here is a reminder: you are worth seeing. Network today, network tomorrow and network in the future"

Are you an avid networker? Ask yourself, where else can I network this year? Who can introduce me to new networking channels? What cross-disciplinary networks can I tap into? Where do the people I would like to meet hang out? Once you have identified suitable networking opportunities, note them down.


Networking is based on forming and building relationships. It takes time, commitment and consistency. Having a networking plan of action will ensure you are intentional and work towards achieving your goals. Equally, seize and maximise impromptu networking opportunities.

Networking before you need it will stand you in good stead when you do need it. Utilise your plan of action to determine when you should network and the frequency. Then, just do it!

It is important to give back as much as you receive in networking relationships. Remember, networking isn’t a one-and-done affair! It is important to make and keep new contacts and never burn your bridges (unless there is a good reason to).


Leadership expert Michael Hyatt said when you know your why, you’ll know your way. Knowing why you are networking will help you clarify the best way to approach it. Networking is like a marmite experience – people either love it or hate it. 

Feeling awkward or nervous is a common ordeal for many people. Is this you? Be rest assured you are not alone. A good starting point is finding someone you can strike a conversation with; through a smile, paying them a genuine compliment, finding common ground, asking an interesting question or for help. Then listen. Don’t forget to keep in touch and do thank them.

Consider practicing your elevator pitch – a brief speech on who you are, what you do and plan to do. It is usually succinct, and you should aim to deliver this in sixty seconds. Love networking? Do remember to look out for anyone looking uneasy and step in; share your knowledge, invite them to join your conversation or introduce them to your network. Good luck!

How we got here

In 2016, eight civil servants on the Civil Service Local Future Leaders Academy recognised that the civil service had talented staff at junior grades, spotting the benefits of networking and learning opportunities. Drawing on the "Brilliant Civil Service" vision, their project created the Junior Leaders Networking Events (JLNE). The programme offered career development guidance to help the civil service identify, develop and retain a diverse cadre of talented staff at junior grades (AO – EO). Over a 12-month period, participants had the opportunity to build their peer-networks, access support from senior leaders and develop strategies to enhance their career development.

Over the years, JLNE continued to evolve and, following the Covid-19 pandemic, the team had to respond in an agile fashion to ensure JLNE activities could continue. In addition to their day jobs, the team adapted its offer from four face-to-face events (300 registrations) within the East, South East and London region to a national offer for an online audience with 4,000+ registration across 21 virtual bite-sized sessions. Pivoting online meant JLNE could be accessible to a more regionally diverse cadre of colleagues. 

“Having a networking plan of action will ensure you are intentional and work towards achieving your goals”

Evaluations show 80% of attendees had done something differently based on their participation. 10% also reported promotions, increased confidence, clearer goals and professional growth.

JLNE has impacted colleagues across 14 departments and several agencies, thus ensuring our junior talent in the civil service is retained, that junior staff have access to developmental opportunities and feel valued. 

Feedback from the JLNE community demonstrates this. As one JLNE member put it: “The biggest impact this group had on me, and others, is its commitment to supporting and lifting the aspirations of junior leaders across the civil service. It promotes camaraderie, knowledge-sharing and openness in a relaxed and trusted environment. With the knowledge and confidence I gained, I looked for promotion options and in February 2021 gained my HEO.”

Senior civil servants also see the value. According to Bernadette Thomson OBE, a former deputy director at the Department for Levelling up, Housing and Communities: “This is an invaluable forum giving the opportunity for senior leaders to inspire the pipeline and pay forward.”

JLNE has come this far based on the support of our dedicated volunteers, senior leaders and cross-government staff networks. We are looking to grow our award-winning team and expand our offer. Can you commit a few hours a month, help with one-off events, or join our steering group? If so, email us at with your name, department, what you can offer JLNE and what you hope to gain.


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