For many corporate professionals, sitting at a desk – whether in the office or at home – for the vast majority of the day is just a fact of life. When we’re not at our desks, we’re between meetings, taking phone or video calls, commuting, and running our day-to-day errands, which means being time poor can be sometimes be the norm. Finding time for social activities and exercise can therefore be difficult.

However, social events and exercise can double up as career development time as well, which is why it’s important to make time for them in your daily life. Despite the rapid increase of social networking for business, face-to-face contact will always be crucial for professionals.

Better than formal networking events – which, as one-off occasions can sometimes be awkward and unnatural – combining a hobby you might already enjoy (choir, chess, guitar, musicals, soccer, rock climbing, the list goes on) with something that helps your career is a great way to pursue interests outside of work and make new connections. Knowing how to network in social settings can create strong and long-lasting professional relationships.

Here are five reasons why social group activities can help with professional networking and ultimately, your career.

Informal settings create more relaxed networking opportunities

A social interest group provides an opportunity to build trust and get to know people in an environment where there is no pressure or agenda. This informality allows professionals to bond over their shared interests and interact as equals – outside the hierarchies of professional environments – which can lead to more authentic relationships.

Joining a running club, swimming squad, or even your weekly local park meetup for dog walking are great ways to keep fit and gives you plenty of opportunities to chat with a variety of people with different work backgrounds and experiences.

RELATED: Top 12 benefits of professional networking and how to get started

Share and receive advice

One of the best ways to network is to offer advice on an informal basis. That is, approach networking as a way to give, rather than as a way to get ahead.

That said, asking for advice is also a time-honoured way to network, as many people are happy to help, especially someone they know socially. So pick someone’s brain at a book club, knitting group or softball game, and you never know where it might lead.

Expand your professional horizons

Joining a group that’s formed around an interest also means you’ll be exposed to a wider variety of people from unrelated professions and jobs than you would otherwise normally meet. This creates an opportunity to find out about someone else’s career and industry, and allows organic connections to be formed.

Be the first to hear about job opportunities

Personal referrals are still a common way for people to find new jobs – many of which are not advertised publically. By being connected to a wide variety of professionals, you might find out about who’s hiring, when, and why.

You can even sound out people and pitch your skills, even if their company isn’t specifically hiring at that point. Keeping an ear to the ground in your pottery class, at the tennis court or at the post-footy drinks could prove an invaluable asset to your career by simply asking about work opportunities.

RELATED: 5 tips to help you identify your next career opportunity

Practise for professional networking events

While social activities can be a great way to get to know people and grow your network, there’s value in simultaneously seeking out traditional networking opportunities such as conferences, industry events, workshops, seminars, education courses, and webinars.

But if professional networking makes you nervous or uncomfortable, sharpening your conversational skills in a more laid-back social setting can help develop and you’re your confidence in stepping outside your comfort zone in more formal networking situations.

It takes initial relationship building and some practise for these career conversations to become a natural part of your networking efforts. Being consistent could open up doors for your next great role.

Haven’t had any luck at social events or are these role not for you? Take a look at our current job opportunities or get in touch with Michael Page’s recruitment specialists.

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