Active networking is vital to career growth. Many shudder when they hear the term networking, associating it with awkwardness and the idea of ‘selling’ yourself. However, despite its reputation, networking is actually about building long-term relationships and an elevated profile within your industry or field of expertise.
Good networking is done on a basis of trust and support. Doing networking right can mean the difference between a mediocre career and a phenomenal one. Anyone can be good at networking and with the help of technology, not all networking needs to be done in person.
Here are a few benefits of networking on your career and some tips for becoming an expert at the craft, whether in person or online.
Benefits of networking
Effective networking can have lots of benefits on your career, including:
1. Strengthen business contacts and connections.
Networking is about sharing, not taking. It is about forming trust and helping one another toward goals. Regularly engaging with your contacts and finding opportunities to assist them helps to strengthen the relationship. By doing this, you sow the seeds for reciprocal assistance.
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.
2. Get fresh ideas
Your network can be an excellent source of new perspectives and ideas to help you in your job. Exchanging information on challenges, experiences, best practices, business techniques and goals is a key benefit of networking because it allows you to gain new insights from collective experience. Similarly, offering helpful ideas to a contact is an excellent way to build your reputation as an innovative thinker.
3. Advance your career
Being visible and getting noticed is a benefit of networking that’s essential in building your career. Regularly attending professional and social events will help to build up your professional profile, which in turn keeps you top of mind when new opportunities and job openings arise.
Professional networking opens many doors in the form of career advice, lasting relationships and even landing your dream job.
4. Build confidence
By continually putting yourself out there and meeting new people, you’re effectively stepping outside your comfort zone and building invaluable social skills and self-confidence that you can take with you anywhere. The more you network, the more you’ll grow and learn how to make lasting connections.
5. Develop long-lasting personal relationships
Of course, the point of networking is to develop and nurture professional relationships, but some of the strongest friendships are borne from work connections. Your networking contacts are probably like-minded people with similar goals as your own, so it’s not unlikely that your professional support network will spill over into your personal friendships.
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.
Tips for effective networking in person
When attending a networking attempt, remember to:
If you are the host of the networking event, make sure you have all the necessary materials ready, such as name badges, business cards and brochures about your business. If you’re attending an external networking event, make sure you have something to contain all the business cards you collect. If you get flustered when talking to people, try to rehearse what you’ll say beforehand.
Set yourself a target
A networking event is not a social gathering – you are there to achieve something. Set yourself a target, such as the number of people you want to talk to or be introduced to. If the number is 10 or 15 people, make sure you leave with 10 or 15 business cards.
Don’t focus on selling
Remember: Networking is about developing relationships – so don’t try to close a deal. You’re not there to do business or secure a job, you’re there to meet valuable contacts. Your main focus should be getting to know more people and their contact information to potentially work with them in the future, so avoid any sales pitches or business propositions.
Talk and listen
You’ve got to talk to people – but you’ve also got to listen to what the other person is saying. Often, networking isn’t just about fulfilling your own objectives, but also in helping others fulfill theirs. Maintain eye contact with the other person when he or she is talking and ask meaningful follow-up questions to show that you have been paying attention. Be genuine and authentic in your communication and you will likely leave a lasting impression on your new contact.
Tips for effective online networking
Even while social distancing, you can still network - just adjust the way you do things.
Seek out opportunities not only for yourself, but for others in your network. By looking out for ways to connect people, you’ll make strong business connections yourself, and your contacts will remember you for it. Online, connecting with peers is even easier - send a quick introduction email to both parties and leave them to make a deeper connection from there.
Revisit contacts that are already in your 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 organizations, 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.
Speaking of digital networks, LinkedIn is your strongest tool for networking online. Share interesting articles on LinkedIn, contribute to the conversation yourself through publishing Pulse articles and keep an eye on what articles your contacts are sharing. Make comments on other articles, whether to participate in a friendly debate or just to say thank you for writing 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.
Most of important of all, whether in person or online: Follow up! Follow up with your newly-formed contact the day after events if you are running a business, suggest interesting collaborations for the both of you. If you have connected on LinkedIn, chat with them to say hello or to send new information. Also, if you have promised to connect your new contact to someone you already know, do so, or risk undermining your credibility, or simply losing an opportunity to make a great connection.
Informal networking opportunities
Networking doesn’t only have to be done at formal events or on LinkedIn. Any gathering, even social or informal can be an opportunity to network - as long as you don’t push it. Don’t start handing out business cards while getting together with some friends for a happy hour - it can feel rushed or insincere. But if in the course of a conversation, it becomes clear that there’s a connection to be made, don’t hesitate to suggest meeting someone again in a more formal setting, or exchanging contacts to continue the conversation.
Go forth and network
Like anything, practice makes perfect. The more you network, the better you get at it, and eventually, it will start to feel more like a natural part of interacting with peers in a professional setting. For more career advice, read through our collection of articles cultivated for professionals in Japan.