Networking is an essential part of professional life. While it might not be crucial in every field, the importance of networking should never be underestimated.
So what is networking?
Essentially, networking is the act of creating connections with colleagues, clients and experts in your field.
There is a perception that networking is a shallow and superficial activity, but it’s actually quite the opposite. Rather than just going out of your way to meet the ‘right’ people, networking is about building and sustaining quality relationships built on trust and mutual support.
The word ‘networking’ has negative connotations associated with it and is often misunderstood with the act of using someone to gain something. However, I see it more as an interaction, one that isn’t a one way street. When networking is done right, both parties gain from the exchange, whether that be knowledge, new business partnerships or new contacts.
Networking doesn’t come naturally to many of us, but it’s great for those looking to form a strong network, build a long-term support system or to accelerate professional growth.
Why is networking important?
A network of close colleagues and associates is essentially a support group. Having people to ask advice of, seek assistance from, or exchange information with, can lay the vital groundwork for your career.
An effective network will help you do your everyday job well, manage projects effectively, find new clients and even climb the corporate ladder. Networking can also help you develop your skill set, find mentors, partners and gain access to a pool of resources that will foster your development.
Networking can play a crucial role when it comes to changing jobs as well. With employee referrals being 4x more likely to be hired, you can bet your top dollar that getting referred by your network for a particular role is worth its weight in gold.
At the end of the day, networking lets you stay visible and get noticed by other professionals.
With whom, where and when should you network?
You should network with peers, competitors and colleagues within your industry – but also in industries that are growing significantly and that you’re interested in.
Consider also networking within your workplace. Networking with your colleagues can be incredibly beneficial for your career opportunities. Many positions may not be publicly advertised, but are filled by those who have heard of the vacancy through word-of-mouth.
Often people confuse networking with selling. Networking is great to form long-term rapport and reputation over time. It’s a great place to form trust and help one another toward achieving goals. When you are networking regularly, you get to engage with your contacts and find opportunities to assist them or even seek advice from.
Consider attending seminars or other external networking events. When you network with people from your industry or in the area of interest, you are working toward raising your own profile.
You walk into a room and you know no one. How do you start networking?
If you are going to a networking event where you don’t know anyone, read up on the topic that will be discussed there. Potentially inform yourself about the bios of some of the speakers. Having knowledge or qualified questions will enable you to join a conversation quickly.
Seek out a smaller group or a person that is also there by themselves. Remember, everyone is there to network – you are not alone. Don’t forget that this is a human interaction too – aside from work, people like to talk about their hobbies, families – and let’s face it: politics and the weather are evergreen topics.
I do a lot of networking, but even I need time to “warm up” if I’m in unfamiliar territory. Concentrate on what you know.
Another thing that works is, research! Research as much as you can about the subject, this will give you an edge and relevant points to discuss when meeting people. Do your research before – it will give you a more focused approach to the event and will make you a more interesting person to talk to.
If you don’t “like” networking, focus on the people you really want to talk to in order to maximise your “output” of the event.
The web offers a treasure trove for connecting with people. How do you go about networking virtually?
With the ongoing pandemic, people are compelled to ditch traditional events for virtual events.
There are a plethora of online webinars, conferences, or seminars you can leverage for your professional development.
So how do you prepare for a virtual event?
The preparations for a virtual event are the same as an in-person event. Make sure you’ve done your research on the event topic and the speakers. This will help you connect with the rest of the attendees and prepare you to ask a question during the Q & A session. I highly recommend taking notes during the event.
For some events, you might be expected to have your camera turned on. If so, then make sure to dress up like you would for an in-person event. Make sure to set-up your desk in an area with plenty of light, so that other attendees can see you.
Don’t forget to follow up. If you’ve engaged with them during the event, then remind them and send an enticing message that would give them a reason to connect with you on a networking site such as LinkedIn.
LinkedIn gives you a great opportunity to qualify the people you network with better – again, this will help you to get to your networking goal faster. Don’t forget to turn the online connection into an offline connection eventually. Nothing beats face to face conversations when networking.
What are some common mistakes that should be avoided while networking?
– Don’t beat yourself up.
Networking is not a job interview, so don’t think of selling yourself. Firstly, be natural, be yourself. Don’t pretend you know stuff you don’t – after all networking is also an educational tool; you get information out of people that will further your understanding – you also have information to give that will enrich the knowledge of your networking partner(s).
– Don’t overdo it
Networking should be a natural conversation – which you are not having with mates at a barbeque, but with people who came to the event with the same goal – to make connections and learn about the industry. So, be curious and don’t be afraid to ask questions!
– Don’t forget to follow up
There is no point in making a connection if you or they will have forgotten about it in a few weeks. Not all connections will be of interest to what you are doing right away, but they might be interesting later on, or they might know people who can help you. So whatever you do, make sure to keep in touch or connect on LinkedIn soon after you’ve met them.
Who are the best kinds of networking contacts?
That depends on your desired outcome. The best contacts could be a manager hiring for a role, it could be a technical manager who can tell you where the market is going, and then again it could be a client you always wanted to work with. Do your research before to enable you to find the “best” networking contact for you at that event.
What do you do after making contact with someone? What does the follow-up process entail?
This depends on what you have agreed upon during the initial meeting. If you’ve promised to send more information about your skill set, your company, your service or product, do this promptly. This shows that you are professional.
If the connection you made is more loose, follow up a few days later with a piece of information that might be useful to them and / or that shows that you are interested in the industry / market / company. Ask for another catch up if you want to get to know that person / company in more detail or agree to stay in touch by sharing information in the future.
What advice would you have for someone who is shy/introverted and faces difficulty in striking up conversations with strangers?
Observe. Find another person that is not surrounded by people and start talking to them. You will eventually find yourself joining other conversations or being joined by people.
If the person you want to talk to has presented before, or you know what they do / where they work, come up with an interesting question that will intrigue them. Don’t forget, everyone is there to network – and not everyone is a “born networker”.
Networking is a skill that one builds on with time and practice, and eventually, you will reap the benefits of it. It is an essential practice for those searching for jobs, building connections for business, looking to progress in their career; whilst building trusting and long-lasting relationships. If you are not ready to attend a big in-person or virtual event, then start small. But the most important thing to remember, keep going and make those connections.