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. Here’s why networking could benefit your career and some tips to becoming an expert.
Benefits of networking
1. Strengthen business contacts and connections.
Networking is about sharing, forming trust and helping one another achieve goals. Regularly engaging with contacts and finding opportunities to assist them strengthens the relationship. This can be done by referring contacts for roles that you hear about, forwarding relevant articles, arranging introductions with mutual contacts and 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 allows you to gain new insights from collective experience. Similarly, offering helpful ideas to a contact can build your reputation as an innovative thinker.
3. Advance your career
Being visible is essential in building your career. Regularly attending professional and social events will help build up your professional profile, which in turn keeps you top of mind when opportunities 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 stepping outside your comfort zone and building invaluable social skills and self-confidence. The more you network, the more you’ll learn how to make lasting connections.
5. Develop long-lasting personal relationships
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, so it’s not unlikely that your professional support will spill into your personal friendships. Networking is 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 in-person networking
If you are the event host, 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 event, bring 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.
Don’t focus on selling
Networking is about developing relationships. So your main focus should be getting to know more people 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. Maintain eye contact with the other person when he or she is talking and ask meaningful follow-up questions to show you’re paying attention. Be genuine and authentic in your communication and you will likely leave a lasting impression.
Tips for effective online networking
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. 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. 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.
LinkedIn is your strongest tool for networking online. Share interesting articles, contribute to the conversation and make comments on other articles, whether to participate in a friendly debate or to say thank you for writing the piece. Don’t discount the insights of people from other industries — they may offer new angles you hadn’t previously considered.
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
Any gathering, even social or informal can be an opportunity to network — as long as you don’t push it. 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
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.