A strong network is an important component of your professional life and offers several benefits in regards to growing within your profession. Networking allows you to cultivate lasting relationships, find interview opportunities and even get promoted within your organization. There are several ways you can network and a number of steps to consider when growing your professional network. In this article, we explore why networking is important, steps to take when networking and tips to keep in mind when expanding your network.
What is networking?
Networking is the act of building relationships with individuals in a professional setting. It includes meeting new people both inside and outside of your industry or career field, exchanging information and ideas with other individuals in a professional capacity, finding out about new job opportunities in your chosen field and increasing awareness in regards to trends in your industry.
Many professionals use a number of different resources when networking. Common ways to network with other professionals in your field include in online networking platforms, attending networking events such as seminars or conferences, joining college alumni groups or becoming a member of a private club or group within your industry. You can also network by building relationships with those you currently work with.
Why is networking important?
Networking is important for several reasons. A few of the most prominent reasons why you should take networking seriously include that it:
- Allows you to establish mutually beneficial relationships with others in your field or industry
- Helps you improve and develop your professional skill set and soft skills
- Gives you access to information related to the latest trends in your industry
- Allows you to stay up-to-date on the job market
- Can introduce you to prospective clients, partners and mentors
- Enables you to learn about job opportunities in your chosen field or industry
- Increases your visibility to management within your organization
- Supports your efforts of promotion within your company
Networking is also a great way to get a recommendation for a job position you wish to apply to. Going into an interview with an already-established professional recommendation will set you apart from other candidates because it instills confidence in the interviewer regarding your abilities and experience.
Steps to take when networking
Whether you wish to expand your professional circle for a potential change in career or have moved to a new area and need help finding a new job, you can follow these steps to grow your professional career through networking:
1. Ask your friends for referrals
It is not uncommon that people prefer helping those who they like and have relationships with. When trying to create a network, people rarely tend to think of tapping their existing network. Your network of current friends can be so instrumental when building your network from scratch. You may be surprised by how connected your friends are.
For the best chances of getting responses, consider sending a short, personal email to six to 10 friends you believe can be of some help to you. Ask if they have any leads to anyone in the industry you are looking to have a connection with.
2. Reconnect with your alma mater
You can approach your alma mater to help you expand your network. If you attended a large college, for instance, there could be several opportunities for meeting many people due to your shared educational background. You can speed up the process by:
- Reaching out to the career center of your alma mater to inquire if they can introduce you to a particular company or link you up to anyone in a specific industry to ask some questions
- Looking up the contact information for professors in different industries and reaching out to them with a question or two, even if you were never directly a student of theirs
- Connecting with your local networking groups, which may host weekend events and dinners to help you meet other alumni in town
3. Support a niche professional cause
Getting in on the conversation around a specific cause within the industry is another way to build your network. For instance, if you are looking to become a computer website developer, you don't need to focus only on website development. It would be best if you also considered niche communities within the field, such as content development, search engine optimization or online marketing programs. Every industry features niche topics, offering leads for both offline and online communities to engage with.
4. Join an online organization
Being an active member of a virtual community is a great way to build your network if you can't make time to attend regular physical group meetings. Many professional industries have active online communities on major social media platforms, which often have engaging threads on industry topics. Go online, send access requests and learn about your field of interest. Begin by asking members what they wish they had known when they first became active in their industry. This may attract a chain of responses that should help you broaden your thinking.
There are also industry-specific professional communities that you might find beneficial to join, especially if you wish to invest your time in a more formal setting rather than in a free online community. For instance, there is a professional online community for licensed professional engineers, professional writers and human resource managers. Membership in such platforms often comes with an annual fee, but they are often worth the investment, especially if they encourage you to participate more actively.
5. Go out and learn something new
Getting out of your comfort zone to do something new is can help you develop a solid sense of camaraderie with others in your industry, and this is especially true when you hope to meet people who are not in your current line of work. When evaluating your interests and comparing them to your potential new field, you can network in a new industry and expand your circle through any hobby that attracts a wide variety of people. Expanding your professional circle may even help you discover a new career path that you would enjoy.
Networking tips for getting a job
When you focus on building strong relationships, the chances are you will succeed in your workplace and when searching for the next job. Through effective networking, you can be sure to cultivate quality relationships, which may lead to interview opportunities or promotions at work. Networking at work requires courage, motivation and strategy.
Below are excellent tips to help you get a job:
- Follow up with your existing network. When you follow up with people in your network, you reinforce with them that your networking interactions were worthwhile.
- Use online resources and social networks. The use of online resources and social networks enables you to maximize your reach, search for new connections and reinforce relationships.
- Reciprocate the favor. A great way to encourage people in your network to help you find a job is to reciprocate this request. Offering to help your connections shows your dedication to the relationship and shows that it isn't only one-sided or focused solely on what you need. Keep a lookout for opportunities that would benefit those in your network and offer assistance when possible.
- Be patient. It takes time to cultivate strong relationships. You may need some patience as you make new connections and meet with existing ones.
- Make the relationship a priority. While getting a new job may be your end goal, it's important to not lose sight of your professional relationships. Rather than handing out your resume to anyone who is willing to look at it, keep the focus on building and growing your relationships with others. This often makes a better impression and encourages those within your network to refer you to an employer rather than simply asking for a referral with no effort to support the relationship.
Networking is an ideal tool for professional growth. You should be sure you are linking up with the right people who you can add to your circle of professional connections. The right professional connections can help you discover new industries or improve your understanding of the industry you're in. With the use of these strategies, you can increase your chances of meeting the right people and taking your career in the direction you're aiming for.