One of the first things you’ll hear when you enter the world of work is that it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. The truth is, if you want to excel in your career, you need a healthy balance of technical knowledge and a great network of contacts. During your career, you should always be looking to build professional contacts as this can lead to future opportunities. A great way of achieving this is by networking. In this article we answer the question ‘what is networking’ and explore how you can start networking to further your career.
What is networking?
As the name suggests, networking is the concept of building a ‘network’ of professional contacts that offers benefits for both parties. While specific networking events often occur at specialised conferences and events, the truth is that simply meeting people at a coffee shop or in the pub can be considered networking.
The best way to think about networking is by understanding that everyone you meet in certain circles can help you advance your career – sometimes in ways you might not expect. While it might not become apparent until a few years down the line, a colleague you regularly speak to at one job might become a manager at another.
Why is networking important?
While some people only believe that networking is useful for finding new jobs, the truth is that it offers many more indirect benefits.
If you network consistently and effectively, you can expand your knowledge and ‘soft skill’ set while improving relations with people that may impact your life further down the line. Some core benefits of networking include:
- Meeting potential suppliers or vendors
- Staying up-to-date with developments in your field
- Gaining access to resources that can aid career development
- Learning more about a specific field in the industry
- Learning more about specific businesses and thought-leaders
- Meeting employers or mentors that can lead to further opportunities
- Opportunity to expand your personal brand
If you think about all of these benefits every time you network, you’ll see why people place so much stock into the concept. You should always be looking to network, even if it’s just holding a polite conversation while you queue for a professional event.
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What are the various types of networking?
Networking can take many different forms and has changed radically as more people have adopted social media. Below are some of the different ways that people network:
Visit networking events
This is generally the first thing that people think of when they hear the word ‘networking’ but events remain a consistent way of building a professional network. There are a huge number of events of various shapes and sizes, meaning even if you’re a newcomer to networking you can find an event to suit you.
Many people struggle with networking events as it usually means interacting with huge numbers of strangers but remember, everyone is in the same boat and you just need to be confident.
Attend industry events
Industry events are great for not only building your knowledge but also your network of contacts – usually without the added ‘pressure’ of a networking event.
Since industry events are specific to an industry or sector, you’ll typically see the same people every time, meaning you can build a solid rapport with people also in your field of work.
Leverage your social media
Professional platforms such as LinkedIn aren’t just useful for recruitment or job searching, they’re also great for networking. Being prominent and consistent on social media can help you establish a personal brand, which can have a hugely positive impact on your career.
Make sure that your social media profiles are always up-to-date and that you always check your messages, just in case you’re losing out on networking opportunities.
How to network effectively
If you’re thinking about networking more, it’s a good idea to think about how you approach the concept to make sure you’re getting the most out of it.
Remember, it’s a two-way street
The reason networking is so highly-regarded is because it’s beneficial for both parties. You should want to receive the benefits such as contacts and advice but you should also be ready to offer something in return. If you have specialist knowledge, you have a valuable commodity that can improve your networking experience. Remember, the point of networking is to help each other succeed!
While this is very similar to one of our job interview tips, it’s still important. If you present your authentic real self, you’re more likely to give a good first impression and have a positive experience. People can tell when others are being insincere and this can lead to an overall negative impression.
Stay in touch!
It’s always important to stay in touch as it’s so easy to lost contact with great contacts and friends. If you find that you’re building a genuinely positive, mutually beneficial relationship that offers benefits and knowledge, make sure that you take the time to stay in touch. This not only gives the obvious benefit of maintaining the relationship but demonstrates that you’re willing to build professional connections.
Practice active listening
While it might sound simple, listening properly is definitely a skill and a vital part of networking. If you can listen, process and respond properly, you’ll always be better at networking. Maintain eye contact, a positive demeanour and ask follow-up questions to what the other person is saying – it makes them feel heard.