It's not always what you know — who you know matters too!
Networking is the holy grail of career advancement. You might be tired of hearing how it will revolutionise your prospects, but there's some truth in it. Whether you're looking to change lanes or want to climb the career ladder, knowing more people in your sector is the way to go. So, how can you get started? Within this guide, we will take a look at what networking is, why networking is important for your career, and how you can make it work for you.
What is networking?
First things first, let's talk about what networking is. Put simply, professional networking is all about meeting new people, making connections, and putting yourself out there. Sounds tough, right? Well, it doesn't have to be. The truth of the matter is that there are many ways to reach out to like-minded professionals and start the conversational ball rolling.
Walking into a room full of strangers might sound like a scene from your most recent nightmare. However, the beauty of networking is that there are different approaches that you can take and you can do it at your own pace. You don't have to rush to book yourself onto the first networking session in your town or city tomorrow. Instead, you should choose a networking style that suits your personality, your field, and, of course, your schedule.
The aim of the game is to meet professionals, share ideas, and widen your career network. You don't have to give everyone you meet the old “hard sell” and ask them to hire you immediately. That's unlikely to do you any favours. Instead, you should focus on learning from these individuals and creating a sense of community.
The four types of networking
You've already got the baseline definition and understand the importance of networking. So, let's take a look at some of the different ways you may choose to network. Whether you're a natural-born social butterfly or something of a wallflower, you can get started with this today. To kick things off, here are four of the most common types of networking and ideas for how you can try them.
1. Networking sessions
First up, it's likely what you think of when you hear the term “networking.” Yes, you can find networking sessions taking place everywhere from restaurants and cafes to the local pub. A quick Google will bring up a variety of sessions near you and most will be free to attend. Business development organisations and private events companies tend to host these. To sweeten the deal, you'll often get some food and drink when you attend. (Of course, we are by no means suggesting that you hit up these events simply for the free prosecco!)
While the format of networking sessions will change from event to event, there are some standard rules that apply. You will be speaking face-to-face with new people throughout the event. You might get a couple of minutes with each individual, where you can get to know each other and share some details. At the end of that time, you may choose to exchange business cards, give them your phone number, or even add them on LinkedIn.
Of course, event organisers are continuously looking for new ways to shake things up. You may find that the networking session is a free for all - in which everyone roams around speaking to one another. On the other hand, the session may look a lot like speed-dating - where you have to move from person to person in a given time frame. When you first attend one of these events, pay close attention to any instructions the host gives.
2. Online networking
We live in a digitalised world, so it comes as no surprise that online networking is a huge deal. There are a couple of ways that you can make new connections through the magic of your computer. Creating a professional online presence may increase your job prospects.
The most obvious avenue is LinkedIn. Once you've set up a profile, you can start building a dedicated network of connections using the much-loved social media channel. You may want to start by adding your colleagues and any business connections you already have. From there, you can start interacting with people online. For instance, commenting on other professionals' posts and sharing interesting content could help you reach new audiences.
When you've exhausted the likes of LinkedIn, you may also want to give Twitter a whirl. While the platform isn't made for networking, being active on this social media site may allow you to connect with professionals in your field and share interesting ideas and news.
The pandemic also gave rise to a whole load of online networking events. If you're not tired of sitting behind a camera and smiling awkwardly, you could look out for some Zoom sessions. Often enough, these are listed on LinkedIn or on event pages like Eventbrite.
3. Personal networking
Do you know someone who knows someone who knows someone? Sure, you do. According to the Six Degrees of Separation theory, you're only six connections away from anyone on the planet. Yes, even Beyonce. While there's no conclusive evidence for the famous theory, there's truth in the idea that everyone is somehow connected to each other.
Personal networking is about just that. It means asking the professionals that you already know to introduce you to new people. Chances are, you already know a bunch of people in your industry. Meeting their friends or ex-colleagues is a simple way to expand your own network. Why not start mining your existing connections? You might find hidden diamonds.
4. Ad-hoc networking
Gifted networkers turn any social situation into an opportunity. Say you're waiting for a bus or out with a group of friends (of friends!), you can make new connections. No matter what you're doing, you will have the chance to reach out and meet people. Whenever you're speaking to someone new, keep in mind that they could be a connection down the line.
For example, you might find yourself sitting on a plane next to a manager in your industry. Between takeoff and landing, you have the chance to speak to them, form a connection, and even swap details. That doesn't mean that you should harass every businessperson you come across. If the guy next to you has his nose stuck in a book, give him a break. However, you should keep networking at the back of your mind in all social scenarios.
Why networking is important for career development
We've covered the basics of what networking is and the types you may use. So, what exactly is the value of networking? You might have been told by managers or gurus that you should network more. But why is it so important when it comes to your career development? It's not just about “making a sale” and landing a new job. No, there are loads of key benefits:
1. You'll learn about new opportunities
Knowing the right people can go a long way. More than 30% of job seekers find out about new opportunities through their connections. When you network, you expand your professional circle, which also means that you increase your chances of finding a job. Often enough, hiring managers don't advertise job openings as their first port of call. Rather than going through that hassle, they may reach out to their professional network.
If you want to open the figurative door to more opportunities, it's well worth networking on a regular basis. Simply knowing about more job vacancies will increase your chances of getting hired faster for a role that you will love. It's not about going out there and seeking a new role. It's about meeting new people who can let you know when openings do arise.
2. You might find your next career mentor
Finding a career mentor is a simple way to accelerate your career. When you're hoping to learn more about your chosen industry, this approach is certainly the way to go. You may find that there is someone in your professional life who already fits the bill. For example, there could be a manager who you look up to, a tutor, or someone you already know.
However, if that's not the case, networking can expand your options. As you start to meet new people, you may come across the perfect candidate for the role. Of course, you don't want to go around asking people to be your mentor from the offset. You don't want to move too fast and come across as needy. Instead, get to know the person and ask later.
3. Your self-confidence will go through the roof
You should never underestimate the power of face time. If, like many, you work from the comfort of your bedroom or living room, you may be lacking that valuable social interaction. You're not alone. Government statistics from May 2022, show that 24% of British workers are now hybrid with 14% working from home all of the time.
Networking in person gives you the chance to build your self-confidence. When you interact with like-minded professionals and learn new things, it gives your self-esteem a boost. The simple act of getting dressed up and leaving the house is often all it takes.
But it doesn't end there. When you meet people face-to-face and drop in your elevator pitch, it will remind you that you are a high-value professional. Since you will be continuously highlighting your skills and competencies to new people, you will also be affirming these to yourself. You might just say that this is a win-win scenario.
4. You will have newfound career resources
Want to talk shop with someone who isn't your manager or co-worker? Expanding your professional network means that you will have a whole load of people to chat with.
Think of it like your personal group chat. If you need information about a new law that will impact your field, you can chew the fat with other professionals. Should you find that there's a new company in town, you can ask around and see if anyone has the inside scoop. There are few downsides to knowing more people in your sector.
5. You may strike upon new and exciting ideas
While we're on the topic of chin-wagging with your newfound connections, let's not forget one of the most important reasons to network. Meeting new people gives you the chance to spark up ideas that you may never have thought about before now. For example, you might be an artist and meet a graphic designer that you can collaborate with. You may own a bar and meet a chef who would be perfect for a pop-up restaurant at your place.
Keeping your mind open when you make these connections. While you might not meet the Joe Alwyn to your Taylor Swift immediately, you never know what could come of your networking escapades. You might find that meeting people opens some hidden doors.
6. It makes you stand out from the crowd
When you're looking for a new job, it pays to stand out from the crowd. There are thousands of professionals hoping to find something new. That means that you need to go above and beyond if you want to have a chance of getting your dream job. When you reach out to new people, it means that you'll have a large professional network on which you can draw. That may mean asking for advice or having people to turn to for help.
Think of networking as your secret ingredient. While other candidates have ticked most of the boxes out there, they may have missed this one. You could ask a new connection to give you details about a company they previously worked at. You may find out what certain managers are looking for from people who already work with them. The sky's the limit.
How can you become good at networking?
Networking can be intimidating, especially if you've never done it before. If it's the first time that you've put yourself out there professionally, you might not know where to start. There's a whole load of things to think about. Luckily, we have the answers you've been searching for. Here are some top tips to help you become an expert networker in no time.
1. Prepare in advance
Heading to a networking session? Before you don your favourite suit and walk out of the door, make sure that you're prepared. That means nailing down your elevator pitch and knowing just what you want to say to people. You'll be asked who you are and what you do. Make sure that you have an answer that is clear, concise, and to the point.
2. Be curious about people
If you're worried about the spotlight being on you, here's a tip that will help. Switch the focus to the other person. People love talking about themselves. When you're meeting new people, take a curious approach. Ask them thoughtful questions about their career.
3. Gather conversation starters
Lulls in conversation happen… but they can be excruciating. If you want to keep the conversation flowing naturally, make sure that you have some starters up your sleeve. You might want to read industry magazines or look online to see what the latest trends are.
4. Take some business cards
When the meet and greet comes to a natural close, what's your next move? You need to make sure that you have an easy way for the person to keep in touch with you. Now, you might want to ask them to add you on LinkedIn. However, a classic move is to use a business card. Handing them your card at the end of an interaction is simple and direct.
Networking doesn't have to be a big, daunting chore. In this guide, we've explained why networking is important and covered everything that you need to know about this approach. No matter whether you have a little time or a lot to dedicate to putting yourself out there, it's a worthwhile activity. Why not start looking at networking events in your area or building a stronger LinkedIn profile? Taking these small - yet significant - steps can put you on the long road to success.
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