Active professional networking is vital to career growth. Many shudder when they hear the term networking, associating it with awkwardness, cheesy events and the idea of ‘selling’ yourself.
However, despite its off-putting connotations, networking is actually about building long-term relationships as well as a good reputation over time. It involves meeting and getting to know people who you can assist, and who can potentially help you in return. Good networking has a basis of trust and support – and can mean the difference between a mediocre career and a phenomenal career.
Here are some of the biggest advantages of networking.
1. Strengthen business 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 when you need help to achieve your goals.
2. Get fresh ideas
Your network can be an excellent source of new perspectives and ideas to help you in your role. Exchanging information on challenges, experiences and goals is a key benefit of networking because it allows you to gain new insights that you may not have otherwise thought of.
Far from it being a nuisance, most people love being asked for help – it’s flattering and makes them feel useful. If you’re struggling with a decision, challenge or new direction, calling up a trusted former colleague, mentor, teacher or friend to organise a coffee can be beneficial to both of you, as they will in turn think of you when next they have a challenge.
Offering helpful ideas in return is an excellent way to build your reputation as an innovative thinker.
3. Raise your profile
Being visible and getting noticed is a benefit of networking that’s essential in career building. Regularly attending professional and social events will help make your face known.
Create value for other attendees by listening carefully, following up on conversations, remembering names, and offering your knowledge and expertise.
You can then help to build your reputation as being a knowledgeable, reliable and supportive member of your profession by offering useful information or tips to people who need it.
Raising your profile within professional circles will also help you stand out to recruiters, who are always on the lookout for strong talent and who may be more likely to approach you with offers.
4. Advance your career
Being visible and getting noticed is a benefit of networking that’s essential in career building. Regularly attending professional and social events will help to get your face known. You can then help to build your reputation as being knowledgeable, reliable and supportive by offering useful information or tips to people who need it.
5. Get access to job opportunities
Expanding your contacts can open doors to new opportunities for business, career advancement, personal growth, or simply new knowledge. Active networking helps to keep you top of mind when opportunities such as job openings arise and increases your likelihood of receiving introductions to potentially relevant people or even a referral.
Don’t forget that many jobs don’t even get advertised – particularly as your career advances – so being a recognised part of networks is a key way to gain access to opportunities that you might not have otherwise.
6. Gain more knowledge
Networking is a great opportunity to exchange best practice knowledge, learn about the business techniques of your peers and stay abreast of the latest industry developments. A wide network of informed, interconnected contacts means broader access to new and valuable information.
The opportunity to gather new information is an often-overlooked benefit of networking, as it’s not the most obvious one, but it also offers career progression and development.
It’s a good idea to actively ask your contacts about developments and techniques, but also to keep an eye on what kinds of articles your contacts are sharing on LinkedIn – don’t forget to comment to let them know that you’ve appreciated 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.
7. Get career advice and support
Gaining the advice of experienced peers is an important benefit of networking. Discussing common challenges and opportunities opens the door to valuable suggestions and guidance. Offering genuine assistance to your contacts also sets a strong foundation for receiving support in return when you need it.
8. 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.
9. Gain a different perspective
It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day of your professional realm and end up in a rut. By talking to others in your field or people with expertise in a particular area, you can gain insights that only come from viewing a situation with fresh eyes. Asking for opinions from contacts you trust or admire can help you see things in a new light and overcome roadblocks that you might not have known how to circumvent otherwise.
10. Develop long-lasting personal relationships
Of course, the point of networking is to develop and nurture professional relationships, but some of the strongest and most long-standing 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.
11. Get an answer to every question
As long as you have a strong network of professional connections, you can be confident that someone within your sphere will be able to answer even your toughest questions. And, if there’s no definitive answer, you’ll have a solid sounding board to bounce ideas off and put into action step-by-step plans to tackle bigger problems.
12. Find a job you love
Professional networking opens many doors in the form of career advice, lasting relationships and even landing your dream role. You never know who might be hiring for your ideal job, or know someone who is, and the more people you have in your network, the likelier you are to be the first to know when those big job opportunities pop up.
Who’s in your professional network?
Your network can include 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 organisations, 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.
How to start networking
As much as networking is beneficial to your career and even your personal life, the reality is that it doesn’t come naturally to many people. In fact, for some, the thought of starting a conversation with a stranger at a conference or event incites downright dread.
A good rule of thumb is to plan ahead and have a few relevant points of discussion in mind if you know you’re going to be in a situation where you’ll have the opportunity to meet new people. These conversation points don’t have to be all about work – they can even be about topics like hobbies or the event itself. The idea is to get the conversation flowing and leave room for future meetups and discussions. On that note, don’t forget to bring business cards so you can swap details easily.
For more career progression advice, check out our networking tips that will work for anyone.
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