Active networking is vital to career growth. Many shudder when they hear the term networking, associating it with awkwardness, cheesy events and the idea of ‘selling’ yourself.

However, despite its off-putting connotations, networking is actually about building long-term relationships and a good reputation over time. It involves meeting and getting to know people who you can assist, and who can potentially help you in return. Good networking has a basis of trust and support – and can mean the difference between a mediocre career and a phenomenal one.

Who’s in my network?

Your network includes everyone from friends and family to work colleagues and members of groups to which you might belong – sporting teams, social and interest-based groups, professional associations, religious communities, alumni organisations, and digital networks, such as on LinkedIn or Twitter.

If you network well, it shouldn’t feel like you’re using these networks to further your career. Rather, you should be building strong relationships with people of similar or complementary interests, with both self-growth and mutual benefits in mind.

Here are five of the key perks of networking:

1. Strengthening relationships

Networking is about sharing, not taking. It is about forming trust and helping one another towards goals. Regularly engaging with your contacts and finding opportunities to assist them helps to strengthen the relationship.

This can be done by referring contacts for roles that you hear about, forwarding articles relevant to their interests or career, arranging introductions with mutual contacts and simply congratulating your networks via LinkedIn when they reach a career milestone or get a new job.

By doing this, you sow the seeds for reciprocal assistance when you need help to achieve your goals.

2. Fresh ideas

Your network can be an excellent source of new perspectives and ideas to help you in your role. Exchanging information on challenges, experiences and goals is a key benefit of networking because it allows you to gain new insights that you may not have otherwise thought of.

Far from it being a nuisance, most people love being asked for help – it’s flattering and makes them feel useful. If you’re struggling with a decision, challenge or new direction, calling up a trusted former colleague, mentor, teacher or friend to organise a coffee can be beneficial to both of you, as they will in turn think of you when next they have a challenge.

Offering helpful ideas in return is an excellent way to build your reputation as an innovative thinker.

3. Raised profile

Being visible and getting noticed is a benefit of networking that’s essential in career building. Regularly attending professional and social events will help make your face known.

Create value for other attendees by listening carefully, following up on conversations, remembering names, and offering your knowledge and expertise.

You can then help to build your reputation as being a knowledgeable, reliable and supportive member of your profession by offering useful information or tips to people who need it.

Raising your profile within professional circles will also help you stand out to recruiters, who are always on the lookout for strong talent and who may be more likely to approach you with offers.

4. Access to opportunities

Expanding your contacts can open doors to new opportunities for business, career advancement, personal growth, or simply new knowledge. Active networking helps to keep you top of mind when opportunities such as job openings arise and increases your likelihood of receiving introductions to potentially relevant people or even a referral.

Don’t forget that many jobs don’t even get advertised – particularly as your career advances – so being a recognised part of networks is a key way to gain access to opportunities that you might not have otherwise.

5. New information

Networking is a great opportunity to exchange best practice knowledge, learn about the business techniques of your peers and stay abreast of the latest industry developments. A wide network of informed, interconnected contacts means broader access to new and valuable information.

The opportunity to gather new information is an often-overlooked benefit of networking, as it’s not the most obvious one, but it also offers career progression and development.

It’s a good idea to actively ask your contacts about developments and techniques, but also to keep an eye on what kinds of articles your contacts are sharing on LinkedIn – don’t forget to comment to let them know that you’ve appreciated the piece. And don’t discount the insights of people from other industries – they may be able to offer new angles you hadn’t previously considered.

While networking is sometimes considered a self-serving activity, it’s far more about mutual benefit and the opportunity to learn, grow and teach. Having a large and healthy network can lead to strong career fulfilment as well as progression and opportunities.

It’s impossible to tell when or how a strong network might create an opportunity – it’s a long-term project rather than a short burst – but it’s never too late to start cultivating one.

Looking for more ways to enhance your career? Read more in our career advice section.

Summary

Regularly networking within your industry and discipline can set you up well to progress in your career. Nurturing relationships with your contacts is mutually beneficial. You can raise your professional profile and broaden your access to opportunities, plus work through industry challenges and gain satisfaction from assisting and connecting others in your network.

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