Professional Networking – Here’s Why and How
People have networked throughout human history. At its core, networking is about building relationships through the sharing of expertise and/or resources.
Today, we know networking is critical for companies and careers. Still, many find the concept slightly daunting. Fortunately, knowing the “why” behind networking provides motivation, and knowing the “how” points us in the right direction.
Networking is about opening doors, often through self-promotion. In the context of your career, networking usually falls into one of three categories: Job Search, Expertise Request or Sales. Each contact is a potential opportunity for personal and professional improvement.
For those just starting out, networking is a free education. Watch how other professionals speak and act, and become comfortable in the environment. You also have a chance to make an impression, especially at networking events. While online networking might be convenient and less stressful, events let you demonstrate interest in others, and begin building relationships. If you do meet someone online, make an effort to also meet in person, as it creates a much stronger impression.
Networking isn’t always about seeking opportunities. Sometimes people get together and simply talk about their industry and the people within it. It’s also a nice way to relax, and break away from the work routine. Finally, participating in professional networks looks good to your current boss, as long as you’re not openly seeking a job change.
How to Network
Networking can happen anytime and anywhere. The key is to be friendly, inquisitive and helpful. Further, networking is a daily activity, and more successful as a well-oiled machine than one used only when looking for a new job.
Begin with your friends, family, co-workers and classmates. A good connection doesn’t have to be a professional acquaintance. In addition, tapping those you know makes it easier to build the relationships necessary for effective networking. An under-nurtured connection probably won’t yield much.
Consider the various networking channels; events, organizations and online networks are currently among the most popular. Whichever you prefer, it’s important to observe etiquette:
• Be open to anyone who approaches you, and polite in all conversations.
• Follow up with a note of appreciation.
• Be true to your word when you agree to do something or be somewhere.
• Give back to supportive connections, as networking goes both ways.
Networking events can be public gatherings or small groups from your current company. Whatever the case, be ready with a smile and firm handshake. Allow the atmosphere to be casual, and participants well rounded. Conversation doesn’t need to remain work-centered. Put your phone away, and concentrate on the people in front of you. After the event, solidify connections through online networks.
Many cities have groups for various types of professionals, which offer endless opportunities for personal and professional growth. Better yet, your boss will be impressed when you express such a dedicated interest in your career. You can always volunteer with organizations related to your interests, which is great for exposing yourself to the people and environment of that sector.
Today we have numerous online networking resources at our fingertips. LinkedIn is clearly the best place to start for professional purposes, but Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus can be outstanding resources as well. With the latter two, remain cognizant of the content you make available. Since, for most people, these are social networks first, your business contacts will also be exposed to your personal life. To keep the two more separate, some people maintain additional, professional Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Networking is about making genuine connections, and doing research to find resources that will offer the most opportunity. With your regular attention and open mind, your networks will prove invaluable to your career.