Ask any successful business person and they will tell you that professional networking is one of the most important elements – if not the most vital one – in moving your career forwards. But even though it is so familiar among professionals, it is also one of the most underused career enhancement methods for success. Here is everything you need to know about networking.
What Is Networking?
Networking is the process of building and maintaining mutually beneficial connections with like-minded individuals through sharing resources and information and supporting each another. Strong relationships are built on competence, trust, fairness, honesty, professionalism, punctuality, confidentiality and being upfront. One of the most important things about networking is being willing to collaborate with your connections instead of competing with them; you should also be willing to go the extra mile to help them and not just look at what they can do for you.
While some people find it far much easier to make connections than their more outgoing counterparts, remember that it’s an art that everyone can master. In fact, everyone has networking experience, just not in those specific terms. Think about it: meeting someone or making a new friend is actually a form of networking.
Social vs Professional Networking
There are two different types of networking: social and professional networking.
Social networking refers to using sites like Facebook and Twitter where you’re able to connect with other people on a personal level, share information, opinions and photos, and send/receive messages.
On the other hand, professional networking involves sites such as LinkedIn and Wisestep which are used by individuals and even businesses to create and maintain professional relationships. These sites provide jobseekers with the opportunity to find employment through their connections’ recommendations as well as to share industry information and opinions with like-minded individuals. Moreover, they also allow employers to easily screen potential candidates by monitoring their online presence and ascertaining whether they will make a good fit for their organisation and the position they’re applying for.
Networking is considered to be one of the most effective job hunting methods. In fact, most people are able to find a job through networking, either through direct contact with a hiring manager or through referrals. Just think about it: if you were a hiring manager and were responsible of hiring someone into your company, would you rather hire someone you know and trust or a complete stranger?
Having said that, some 80 per cent of jobs are never advertised, so by engaging with other professionals, you might end up getting hired in the hidden job market.
Meanwhile, surveys show 50 to 60 per cent of MBA graduates found a job through networking. Ninety-five per cent of respondents claimed that their networking efforts worked in one way or another.
The Biggest Predictor of Career Success
So, what is the biggest predictor if you want to succeed big time in your career? Is it luck, brains, humour? Author and entrepreneur Michael Simmons explains it’s actually networking. ‘According to multiple peer-reviewed studies, simply being in an open network instead of a closed one is the best predictor of career success,’ he writes. ‘In fact… half of the predicted difference in career success (i.e., promotion, compensation, industry recognition) is due to this one variable.’
But what exactly is an open network, you ask? Well, to help you understand the term, it would be helpful to understand its opposite. A closed network is when you network with people you already know and stay in the same industry, religion or political party. It, therefore, may be easier to get things done due to the trust you’ve built up with your existing connections.
On the other hand, an open network consists of people who act as the node connecting different people and different groups – and who can sometimes end up feeling disconnected and misunderstood. Having an open network can be quite challenging due to the constant conflicting perspectives you have to assimilate into your worldview. However, this is actually what makes open networks so valuable. By having all these different people together, with their varied backgrounds, you’re able to absorb the immense creative potential by combining ideas from different fields.
Therefore, by making the effort to tolerate this intellectual and social awkwardness, you will definitely gain a huge boost to having a successful career.
Why Is Networking Essential for Career Success?
After two decades of successfully applying the power of relationships in my own life and career, I’ve come to believe that connecting is one of the most important business – and life – skill sets you’ll ever learn. Why? Because, flat out, people do business with people they know and like. Careers – in every imaginable field – work the same way.
A 2009 longitudinal study questioned people about their networking processes and recorded that their salaries increased over three years due to some form of networking. There is also evidence to suggest that you are more likely to find a job through your acquaintances instead of close friends.
Networking Tips Every Professional Should Follow
By investing the time to build a strong and open network, your career will eventually reap the benefits. People in your network will start seeing you as a skilled professional and will reach out to you for services depending on your expertise.
Don’t worry, we get it: networking can be a daunting process. In fact, it can be extremely terrifying if you’re not exactly a people person and you’re not particularly fond of socialising at big events. However, no matter how tedious it may be, it’s crucial for your career’s success.
Firstly, though, you need to completely avoid generic tips like setting up a LinkedIn profile, being active on Twitter and cold-emailing people. It’s no wonder networking has a bad rep, what with everyone telling you to go about the wrong way.
We’ve put together a list of the most useful tips to help you network and effectively build real and strong professional relationships with people you think are influential. And remember to network outside of your industry from time to time; these connections can be just as useful as the ones made within your field.
Identify Networking Opportunities
This is something that most people struggle with, especially freelancers and introverted people. Here are a couple of methods you can use to identify great networking opportunities near you:
If you’re a freelancer, it can be very difficult to get outside and find profitable business connections when you spend most of your hours working alone in your home office. That’s why sites like Meetup exist and can become an integral part of your career.
If Meetup doesn’t have any events in your area, there’s always Google. You can start with these simple search queries:
- ‘[Your city] business networking’
- ‘[Your city] networking events’
- ‘[Your city] networking groups’
Set a Schedule
Now that you have identified all the opportunities available to you, it is now time to set your priorities. During the first days of each month, look at all the events in your area and select which events you would want to attend – this, in essence, won’t interfere with your work schedule.
Don’t Procrastinate - Just Pay for It
If you’ve found an event that you aren’t sure you want to attend, just go ahead and pay for it. By financially investing in the event, you create a commitment for yourself and this, in turn, ensures your attendance.
Don’t Overbook Yourself
Make sure that you don’t book more than one event per week, especially in the beginning. This will allow you to prepare properly and stress-free.
Craft a Great Marketing Toolkit
Now that you have arranged all your networking events and feel ready to meet new people and start mingling, you need to create your own pre-packaged marketing toolkit which you will be able to offer to potential connections.
Here are some examples of what your toolkit can include:
- Business cards
- Greeting cards
By using these marketing tools, you can creatively promote your brand and your business. Just try to keep things as simple as possible.
Meanwhile, Chris Dessi, CEO of Silverback Social shares some valuable tips on how to make your networking efforts worthwhile and shows us how to benefit from professional networking events. These tips apply to all professionals:
Context Is King
Start the networking process well in advance. Find out all about the event on the internet and seek out attendees and speakers on social media. Make sure to follow them on LinkedIn or Twitter and engage with their content before you meet them in person. When you have already built rapport with some people, you will have something to talk about when you see them at the event – like meeting an old friend. Just don’t assume they remember who you are, and make sure you introduce yourself when you do finally meet them in person.
Some people show up with another person and never leave each other’s side the entire event. However, your clique may scare off potential introductions and your little crew could especially intimidate introverts. If you do show up alone, you can also challenge yourself and seek others on your own. If others can do it, you can, too.
If a speaker at the event asks a question or wants a volunteer for help, raise your hand and put yourself up there; it is not a magic show, so no one will try to embarrass you. They usually just want to make a simple point and, if done correctly, everyone will remember you, and people will talk about it for weeks after. What better way to get your name out there?
Go for the Loners
Groups are very hard to approach and impress, so just approach that one person standing in the corner all by themselves and strike up a conversation. This way, you’ll be able to ascertain if you share the same interests and, before you know it, you’ve made yourself a new connection – just like that.
Volunteer to Work at the Event
Pulling off an event is very hard, which is why most organisers use volunteers to help build and run the conference. This has many benefits; most importantly, it keeps you in the know. You also gain access to the organisers’ inner circle as well as the event’s agenda, sponsors and, of course, speakers. This provides you with the unique opportunity to meet and network with people who would have otherwise encountered as a simple attended. Added benefit is that you’ll be able to attend the event for free.
In order to fully enjoy the fruit of your labour, you have to follow up right after the event. What’s the point of spending all that time and money on an event when you have nothing to show for it at the end? The purpose of these events is to make new connections. So, as soon as you leave – or even in the middle of the conference itself – make sure you connect with the people you’ve met on LinkedIn.
Hang Out by the Food
Okay, this may sound strange but don’t worry: all we’re suggesting is to camp out by the buffet or bar because every attendee will pass by at one point or another, meaning you will be able to see and, most importantly, interact with everyone there.
Remember to Have Fun!
Doing business may be a serious affair but successful networking should be fun. Generally speaking, the more positive your attitude and the more fun you have, the more people will approach you.
Networking Is a Two-Way Street
One of the most important things you need to remember when you’re networking is that it’s a two-way street. Therefore, whenever you meet someone, you need to find out everything about them and their business as well as inform them everything there is about you. You can begin the conversation by asking the basics like their name, company, affiliation, position and so on. If you want to find out more about them and their company, you can ask some of the following questions:
- Who are your clients?
- What products or services do you offer?
- Who is in charge of the sales decisions?
- What differentiates you from the competition?
Evaluate Your Contacts
You’ll quickly learn that not all the people you meet at networking events are worth establishing a long-term relationship with. This applies to both parties. You need to present yourself as a problem solver and not just another name in their contacts list. Ultimately, you need to aim to make connections where both parties will be able to benefit from the relationship and who have the same qualities as you.
Spend Time Social Networking
We previously mentioned the difference between social and professional networking but both should be employed in your networking efforts. After sending invitations to your contacts to connect on LinkedIn, you should also follow up with them on Twitter and by sharing and creating relevant articles they might find interesting. Make sure to join discussions, answer questions and be a member of a community in general. Francisco Cruz believes that you should ‘surround yourself with smarter people’ and we couldn’t agree more. The more you stay in touch with your contacts – even in the form of retweets – the smarter you’ll feel. ‘I feel like I will never be as awesome or as smart as those near me,’ Cruz adds. ‘And with that constantly hovering around your head, it makes you strive to become better.’
How to Make the Most of Your Professional Contacts
You’ll meet several interesting, inspiring, empowering and successful people at a networking event, but what do you do next? Do you call them? Send ‘thank you’ notes? Here are a few tips on how to follow up:
Keep an Up-to-Date List
Before you send your first email, make sure to create a list with all the connections you made at the event – regardless of whether you think you and your career can benefit from them. Write down the date you met, the date you sent them your first email, if and when they replied, each time you met and so on. These notes will come in handy in the future and will definitely remind you when you need to follow up with someone you haven’t been in touch with for some time.
Here’s a great example:
Aaron Davis (email@example.com) – Founder and CEO of uRock
- Met at Victoria Summons on 06/09
- Sent email on 07/09, AD responded same day
- Met at Franky’s Bistro on 10/09
- Future meeting set for 20/09
- Potential connection for future job position – Marketing Executive at PowerHour
You can also add other notes like topics of conversation or personal information they shared with you.
Send a Brief Formal Email
All you need to do is make the first move and send a brief email thanking them for the opportunity to speak with them. The point of this email is to propose ways to reconnect – this could be extending an invitation for a coffee or lunch (always on you). It’s important to remember that you should keep your email as brief and to the point as possible.
A great follow-up email includes brief details on where you met, the purpose of your email and an open invitation for a future meeting.
Here’s an excellent example:
Subject: Free for Lunch? On Me!
Hello Mr Davis,
Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me at the Victoria Summons event in September. It was an honour having the chance to talk to you and hear about your background in marketing. Hearing all about your work as well as the clients you have worked with has certainly triggered my interest in the field.
I understand you must be very busy, but would you be available for lunch on Thursday afternoon?
I look forward to your reply.
After you’ve had your meeting with them in person or spoken to them on the phone, set yourself a reminder to stay in touch. You could meet with them again, email for advice or ask them to connect you with someone in their own network. Don’t be afraid to take the initiative, but make sure you’re always respectful and pleasant. Your career progression depends on it.
How to Use Networking to Find a Job
A recent study by ABC News found that 80 per cent of jobseekers secured a job through networking; a percentage which represents smart jobseekers who understand that finding employment requires hard work.
You could end up sitting next to a complete stranger on a plane who just happens to be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company and who just happens to be looking to hire someone with the same skills and qualifications as you. Sometimes, that’s all it takes to find a job: start a conversation with people you’ve never met before.
If you want to take this more seriously, contact everyone you know; you might be surprised by how many contacts they have. You could either take a more indirect and formal approach and ask your contacts to give you information and guidance or take a more direct approach and specifically ask about any job leads. Pick up the phone and make a quick call or send them a brief email and let them know. Or you can even be more subtle about it and casually mention that you’re job hunting when you next seem them at a social gathering. The point is to be as sociable as possible because you just never know when you might meet someone who could end up becoming your new boss.
Here are some of the places you can network with other professionals:
- Networking events
- LinkedIn job forums
- Online discussion boards
- LinkedIn groups and connections
- University or school alumni forums and events
Meanwhile, you could also send a job search networking letter to contacts in your specific field.
Tips for Introverts
It can be incredibly difficult when you’re a bit of an introvert, especially when you have to work a room and get to know people. If you’re not much of an outgoing person, having to attend events attended by ridiculously large crowds and make yourself likeable and interesting can feel like diving face-first into a mosh pit.
Even though the conventional image of an entrepreneur is a loud extrovert, this doesn’t mean that shy people should be at a disadvantage in the business world. There are, in fact, several benefits to having a more reserved nature. Research conducted by Adam Grant, a management professor at Wharton School found that introverts are actually more effective leaders and more adaptable in the workplace than their extroverted counterparts. Therefore, my dear introverts, there is definitely more than one path to career success.
Maybe networking is often connoted with visibility, but that doesn’t mean that you always have to be the centre of attention if you want to be successful at networking. Just relax and let your true introverted self shine.
If just the thought of attending a networking event with hundreds of strangers makes your palms sweaty, all you need to do to feel better and actually succeed is plan ahead and prepare some icebreakers. For example, open-ended questions always branch out into interesting conversations. Everyone loves talking about themselves, so ask questions like ‘What’s your favourite part of your job?’ and get the conversation going.
#2 Contact People in Advance
Find out who will be attending the event and seriously consider who you want to approach and establish a connection with. You could even email them beforehand to introduce yourself to them. In the meantime, stalk their social media accounts and find out more about their interests so you have a couple of topics to talk about.
#3 Bring a Wingman/woman
If you need someone to boost your confidence, try to convince a coworker to join you. This will also provide you with the opportunity of being introduced to their own connections. Just make sure to spend some time alone with them, but don’t be too clingy.
You don’t always have to be the one initiating the conversation but, of course, you always need to remember that your body language can put people off you if you’re not careful. Try to relax and smile, and generally try to seem approachable. The opposite will only scare potential connections away.
#5 Set a Time Limit
If you decide beforehand how long you will stay at the event – let’s say 20 minutes – then it will make it seem less intimidating and stressful. This could help you enjoy yourself and, ultimately, you might end up staying longer than planned.
#6 Practice, Practice, Practice
As an introvert, you don’t like large crowds, and that’s okay. And even with our advice, you might never like schmoozing with total strangers but you can eventually make this process less painful and stressful by doing this on a more regular basis. By practising, you will slowly get the hang of things and you’ll soon be able to work on your communications skills at work by striking up conversations with new coworkers in the break room.
Tips for Extroverts
If you’re an extrovert, then you must be thriving on the energy gained from communicating with other people – even strangers. With your outgoing personality and ease in approaching new people, you might seem like the ultimate networker. However, even though there are some great advantages in creating and maintaining new professional relationships with strangers, your extroverted personality can also work against you as you might sometimes come off as overbearing and annoying.
Here are some networking tips if you are an extrovert:
#1 60/40 Rule
Basically, listen for 60 per cent of the time and talk for 40 per cent of the time. You should also show a real interest in their responses and try to apply empathetic and active listening to show them that you are truly engaged in the conversation.
#2 Share the Spotlight
You may be buzzing with ideas and thoughts but avoid dominating the conversation, and make sure not to interrupt people when they’re sharing their ideas and thoughts. You don’t need to always take charge of the conversation; take a step back and allow others to participate or even lead the conversation, too.
#3 Be Aware of Your Body Language
This relates to everything from maintaining eye contact to your body’s posture and tone of voice. A loud, rowdy laugh can often come across as fake and overly friendly.
#4 Recognise Other Personality Styles
Use your energetic personality to approach others who would feel intimidated to approach you. Spending time to network with people who are often quieter and with more shy personalities can actually be like networking a gold mine as most introverts are often described as bright, sharp, thoughtful and well-organised, hard-working individuals.
Now that you know how essential professional networking is to career success, you need to take all the necessary measures and work towards improving your networking skills. After all, it’s not about what you know but who you know – and networking is the way to go if you want to have a successful career in today’s competitive market.
Would you say that you are a networking expert? If so, do you have any tips for our networking newbies? Share your thoughts and ideas with us in the comments section below!