The old cliche is that it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.
When you’re looking to excel in your career, the truth is that you need a healthy balance of both. While you should always be looking to expand your personal development and learn new skills, you should also be building professional contacts that may provide opportunities further into your career. An easy way of building this contact base is through networking.
In this article, we answer the question ‘what is networking’ and explore the different types of networking you can perform.
What is Networking?
Networking, as the name suggests, is about building a network of professional contacts that offer mutually beneficial opportunities. While most people think about networking as attending specialised conferences or events, the truth is that simply speaking to someone in your local coffee shop could be considered networking. The best way to think about networking is by considering the fact that everyone you meet may be able to help you advance your career – whether it seems like it now or not.
Why is Networking Important?
While it may seem like people only network to advance further in their careers, the truth is that it offers a much wider benefit. By networking effectively and consistently, you can start to expand your knowledge, your skill set and develop contacts with people that may have an impact on your life further down the line. Some core benefits of networking include:
• Meeting potential vendors or suppliers that you may use in your career
• Keeping up-to-date with developments in your field or sector
• Gaining access to various resources that can aid your career development
• Learning more about working in an industry or role that you desire
• Learning more about working at a specific business that you desire
• Meeting potential employers or mentors that can provide you with opportunities
• Expanding your personal brand and ‘getting your name out there’
With this in mind, you should always be looking to network in any professional environment, even if that means just holding a polite conversation with someone while you wait in line for an event. You never know when a relationship that you’ve built with someone may come back as an opportunity further down the line.
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What Are the Different Types of Networking?
Below are some of the different ways in which you can start networking effectively:
Leverage your social media
As social media has become more prominent, so have the opportunities for networking. Professional platforms such as LinkedIn aren’t just useful for recruitment or job searching – they’re also useful for increasing your reputation and establishing a personal brand. Joining groups on social media can help you learn more about your career path and connect with like-minded people or even professional bodies that provide further help.
Make sure that your social media profiles are always updated with the latest information and don’t post anything on there that you wouldn’t want an employer or professional contact to see!
Visit networking events
It might be the first thing that people think of when they hear the word ‘networking’ but events are still one of the most effective ways of building your professional network. See if you can find networking events and take the time to visit as many as you feel comfortable with.
Many people struggle with networking events as it typically means you’ll be interacting with a room full of strangers. Just remember, everyone is in the same boat and is there for the same reason – you just need to be confident!
Attend industry events
Industry events often provide you with extremely useful information about your chosen sector but they also offer the opportunity to meet your peers in your role. This is a double benefit that you can use to your advantage during your career.
Since industry events are often very specific, you’ll also typically see the same attendees each time which means you’ll build a rapport with people in a much more organic way.
Join a professional body
A professional body is a group of experts in a specialist profession that ensure the ongoing legitimacy and excellence of the profession. They generally provide development opportunities specifically tailored to their members and can help point you in the direction of new events. This is extremely useful if you’re seeking progression in a specific field or want the opportunity to meet a mentor.
In some cases, professional bodies may also highlight new job openings, which can make your job search much easier.
How to Network Effectively
Below we explore how you can start networking effectively:
Remember it’s a two-way street
The most important part of networking is that it’s a mutually beneficial relationship. You should expect to meet people that can offer contacts, advice or even tangible opportunities but you should also be able to offer something in return. Knowledge sharing, specialist skills or contacts in hard-to-reach places are all valuable commodities that facilitate networking. Remember, the point of networking is that you’re all helping each other to succeed.
Always be authentic
In any social situation, it’s important to be yourself. The same goes for networking. By presenting the real you, you’re more likely to give a good first impression and ultimately, have a more satisfying experience. Others can often tell when you’re being insincere, which may also hinder your networking efforts.
It might sound simple but listening properly is the most important aspect of networking. Someone that can actively listen will always be better at networking. An easy way of demonstrating that you’re listening and developing a good relationship is by maintaining eye contact, using positive body language and asking follow-up questions that further the conversation.
If you’re worrying about extended interactions with strangers, you can always ask questions! This takes the pressure away from both parties because there’s no reason to search for conversation topics. Think of a list of questions that you can apply to individuals that might help you learn more while also breaking the ice. Utilise active listening so that you can offer a follow-up or expand on a topic and keep the conversation moving.
Stay in contact!
It’s always easy to lose touch with a connection just because an event or a situation is over. If you find you’re building a genuinely exciting relationship that may provide benefits, exchange details and stay in touch. By following up with people that you meet, you demonstrate that you’re still willing to build professional relationships and connections.