If the word “networking” conjures images of semi-crowded rooms filled with people in formal wear having seemingly banal chit-chat about their jobs and interests, you’re not alone.
However, while this might be a partially accurate representation of what networking can be like in some contexts, I’m here to tell you that there are, in fact, other ways to go about expanding your professional network and reaping the benefits — of which there are plenty.
Indeed, networking can help you get your foot through the door of your desired industry, connect with likeminded people in your field, and take your career to the next level. Therefore, while it may seem like a nuisance, networking could be a vital step towards your professional objectives.
Our guide will walk you through everything you need to know about networking, including what it is, its importance and how you can get started.
Professional networking entails connecting with people from your industry and beyond. The objective is to build relationships that can further your career, enrich your skill set, and keep you in the loop about developments in your field by expanding your professional contacts.
Nonetheless, it’s important to note that networking doesn’t need to be just a transactional process. In fact, it can be a productive way to give back to others by sharing your knowledge, and make new friends by forming genuine connections with others.
While networking often takes place in social settings such as work events, conferences and meetings, it can also happen in virtual spaces such as social media platforms like LinkedIn and other online communities.
Having a professional network comes with a myriad of benefits — the primary one being professional development.
Indeed, as research findings have suggested, a good network can do wonders for your career trajectory, as it can lead to a higher income and more promotions. This can be attributed to the fact that the more people know what you have to offer, the more likely these opportunities will come your way. If your networking has reached the upper management of your company, this could help you stand out from others when internal hiring takes place.
Meanwhile, if you have been able to engage with people across your industry, then you’re more likely to be recruited by other companies. That is to say: networking opens up a world of opportunities for you.
If you’re still not convinced, then perhaps consider the following reasons why networking can play such a crucial role in your career:
- Establishing yourself within your field and gaining recognition
- Forming new partnerships and collaborations
- Finding new job opportunities through your contacts
- Achieving professional and personal growth through knowledge-sharing
- Gaining insights into your industry and keeping up with the newest developments and trends
There are numerous ways to broaden your network and form valuable professional relationships. If you’re stuck on how to get started, check out the following networking methods:
1. Utilize online platforms and resources
One of the easiest and fastest ways to connect with others is via social media apps.
LinkedIn is the most notable option, as it is a platform whose core purpose is to help you connect with people from your industry and beyond. It’s also a great option for keeping up with the career progression of your extended contacts as well as sharing your professional milestones. That being said, other apps including Instagram and TikTok could also be useful networking tools, albeit less conventional.
Another great option is to find industry-specific pages that will bring you in direct contact with professionals from your field. For example, if you’re a designer, sites such as Behance and Dribble act as virtual networking hubs for creatives. Online groups and forums are also great ways to engage with people from your industry.
Through these various digital channels, you’ll be able to share your work, offer and gain advice, as well as partake in meaningful discussions revolving around industry-specific topics.
2. Attend networking events
If you want to meet and network with people in the flesh, then there’s a range of options available to you. For starters, alumni events hosted by your alma mater could bring you in contact with individuals who have taken similar career steps since graduation or who are in a more advanced stage on the career ladder.
Industry events such as conferences, symposiums, workshops and the like are also great ways to meet with experts from your field, engage in a knowledge exchange, and develop your skills.
Another surefire way to network in person is attending company mixers and socials which allow you to engage with your coworkers and superiors in a more informal setting. Make sure to take some business cards with you, and share them with those you would like to stay in contact with.
3. Reconnect with dormant ties
Sometimes the most effective way to form professional relationships is to reconnect with former contacts. Indeed, according to research, dormant ties, meaning professional contacts with which you are no longer in touch, can be a valuable source of social capital.
Whether it’s a former colleague, a college professor, an internship supervisor, or a mentor from the earlier stages of your career journey, consider reaching out to them and re-establishing these ties.
4. Join professional organizations
Professional organizations entail associations, societies and other organized bodies related to your industry. While you may have to pay a membership fee to be granted access to them, professional organizations are a proactive way to be part of the national and international body of professionals.
5. Engage with your local community
If you’re looking for a more informal way to meet others, joining local groups and initiatives beyond your industry could be a good way to achieve this. For example, you could volunteer for a non-governmental organization, take part in grassroots initiatives in your city, or even do recreational activities such as joining a book club or a sports team.
If you’re not sure where to look, check out Facebook groups or other social media platforms. This is a great way to connect with people who share similar interests as you, and meet new friends who, although may not be in the same industry, could allow you to diversify both your personal and professional network.
Now that you have identified the best ways to establish a network, it’s time to get started. The following networking tips will certainly help your efforts.
Before you embark on your networking journey, it’s wise to consider what you would like to gain from it. Perhaps you’re looking to meet likeminded people, expand your current industry knowledge or seek new career opportunities. Using your key objectives when networking will stir you towards the people who can help you achieve them.
2. Consider what you can contribute
Networking is a give-and-take process; just as you will benefit from your connections, so will they. Therefore, it’s important to know what you bring to the table regarding your skills, knowledge and expertise. Networking is as much about learning as it is about teaching others, and this approach allows you to form more meaningful connections overall.
A good elevator pitch will help you set a solid foundation with new contacts, especially when you find yourself in networking events where you’ll be interacting with several people.
You have already determined what you can contribute to a professional relationship, so the next logical step is to find the best way to present yourself to others and make a lasting impression. Your pitch should summarize your expertise, goals and experience compellingly.
4. Identify common interests
A great way to build rapport with someone from the get-go is to find common ground with them. Whether that is shared interests, professional practices or social causes, you can use these topics to anchor your conversations. Having some conversation starters at hand could help you identify such commonalities quickly.
Meanwhile, if you’re connecting with people online, you could also do your due diligence by finding similar interests before reaching out. This will foster a deeper conversation and lead to a genuine connection with the other person.
5. Send personalized connection requests
When connecting with others on platforms such as LinkedIn, the best way to go about it is to craft a personalized message for your prospective contact. People receive numerous connection requests weekly, and the best way to stand out and initiate a true connection with them is to demonstrate your reasons for connecting right from the start.
Meeting and connecting with people is only the initial step toward building a network. What comes next is the active effort to maintain these connections and create rapport. Here’s how you can go about doing this:
1. Keep track of your contacts
Actively trying to expand your network can be an overwhelming process. The best way to stay on top of things is to come up with a system that will allow you to keep track of all your connections. Be it a notebook or a spreadsheet, ensure that you include essential information including name and surname, job title, contact details, as well as notes and questions you would have for your contacts.
2. Say “thank you”
Saying “thank you” is not just good manners but a great way to establish a line of communication with a new contact. A good way to do this is to email them to express your gratitude for the conversation you shared, the questions they answered and the insights they offered you. You could pair this with other follow-up points which could help you build better rapport with them in the long run.
3. Congratulate them on new milestones
A less demanding way to maintain your professional network is to congratulate people on the milestones they share on their professional digital channels. You could do this by reacting and commenting on their announcement posts or by messaging them directly and striking up a conversation.
Showing interest in people’s achievements will help you form more meaningful connections with them that are not one-sided or merely transactional.
4. Share useful resources
As mentioned before, networking should be all about the exchange of knowledge. Sharing resources such as videos, articles, news reports and upcoming events that you think would be useful or interesting to your contacts is just one way to do this while maintaining a connection to them. Much like acknowledging other people’s achievements, sharing information demonstrates a genuine interest in them, which surpasses personal gain.
5. Follow up with them
The best way to maintain your network is to follow up with them. For example, you could ask how they found the resources you shared with them or see if they have heard of the latest trend that is taking your industry by storm. You could also get their opinion on a matter relevant to their expertise or, if you’re on friendlier terms, simply check in and see how they’re doing.
There are multiple benefits to having a strong professional network, with the most distinct one being the career opportunities it can bring your way. It is important, then, to put your networking efforts to good use when job searching.
1. Utilize current connections
Through your existing network, you can optimize your search for new job opportunities. For example, if any of your contacts work at organizations you’re interested in, you could ask them for a referral for current or future openings.
Moreover, you can get people from your network to give you endorsements regarding your skills and knowledge, both on your LinkedIn page and beyond. Finally, you can ask your network to keep an eye out for job opportunities that you would be suited for.
2. Help your network first
While this may be a less direct way of looking for jobs through your network, helping someone else further their career could eventually lead you down new avenues too. Indeed, this could lead to them returning the favor further down the line by referring you to their company or giving you other great leads.
3. Scout opportunities at networking events
The most hands-on approach to job searching is through in-person networking events, as they can lead you straight to prospective employers. Be it an industry-related conference, a job fair or an alumni mixer, make sure to mention that you’re looking for new opportunities and enquire about any potential openings.
4. Use your extended network
Your extended network consists of individuals who are not within your industry. Nonetheless, they’re still valuable contacts who could bring you in contact with others from the same field. Consequently, don’t be hesitant to mention that you’re in the process of looking for a job with people who may not be directly related to your field — you never know where that could lead!
5. Schedule informational interviews
Informational interviews are a great way to learn more about a role or company you are interested in and attain specific advice and insider knowledge. To set one up, you’ll need to use your existing contacts or reach out to new ones and ask if this is possible. That said, it’s important to use informational interviews to ask for advice rather than a job, especially if there are no current openings.
Our quick Networking Checklist will help you prepare for — and make the most of — your next networking event so you meet the right people, make the right impressions and take the right career path.
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Building professional relationships requires you to step out of your comfort zone, but this also comes with a lot of great benefits. Through your network, you’ll be able to develop your skills, form meaningful connections and help others. Ultimately, it could take your career to the next level.
So, to recap, make sure to implement these practices if you want to broaden your network:
- Try different networking methods including digital platforms, in-person events and local groups and activities.
- Build strong relationships through common interests and by taking a personalized approach with your contacts.
- Identify your objectives for networking, and be ready to pitch yourself to others.
- Treat networking as an opportunity for knowledge exchange.
- Maintain your professional network by following up with your contacts and showing interest in their professional journey.
Have you got any handy networking tips for beginners? Share them with us in the comments section below!
Originally published on October 14, 2016.