Verb – To Interact with others to exchange information or develop professional contacts
Just thinking about the word networking can conjure up a combination of concern and cringe. But in reality, networking is really no more than the art of conversation; just with a little more of an objective. But, it is right there in the definition, ‘develop professional contacts’. Every job you have ever had and will ever have will most likely be the outcome of your efforts to create professional relationships with others.
Networking done well, is simply conversation done well, with an aim. But that’s easier said than done of course. Having a conversation with someone based purely off of your mutual interests is easy, but doing so with the underlying objective to get something of value from them is a challenge.
The idea of building relationships isn’t a new one, nor should it worry us. However, we’re guilty of only making an effort to network at the time when it seems relevant to do so, but networking is something that can, and should, happen anytime and anyplace. Effective networking gives you an opportunity to learn new things and meet new people with similar goals and interests. The more you network the more you’ll learn both about yourself, others and the industry you want to progress in.
Building relationships with people is all about providing value to them. Whilst the overall goal for networking should be to progress your own career, it’s important to remember that bringing value to others is what builds the best relationships. Whether it’s a friend, family or someone outside of your direct team at work, think about how someone could benefit from your skills. Doing this in your day-to-day job is so important for your professional development, and will show your manager that you’re someone who goes above and beyond expectations.
Though you may have never considered yourself a writer, publishing content in your niche is an excellent way to network. You can publish to LinkedIn pulse (click below for how to), Medium or even your own blog if you want. Using the wealth of free publishing opportunities is a great way to share your experiences with people in your industry and start valuable conversations. If you’re really good, your content may even be noticed by someone senior in your field, giving you the chance the impress a potential future employer.
It’s said that we’re only two or three degrees of separation away from any company you’d like to work for. Whilst immediate friends and family are the best route into the dream company, often this is unlikely, so the next best thing is to find your mutual connection to someone who already works there. A great way to do this without even having to ask is using LinkedIn’s connection degrees feature. This shows if someone your connection knows works at your dream company. You can then use them (only 2nd degree) to get an introduction.
Like any other professional project, effective planning is essential to success. Before you head out to any kind of networking event or conference, you should have a clear objective in mind. It might be that there’s a particular person you’d like to meet, or a set number of business cards you want to collect, whatever it is, there should be a tangible goal. However, having this in mind can make the process of networking quite a daunting one, so remember the importance of having something to offer, being more interested in listening than talking and try to find common ground.
As said before, we’re often guilty of only making the effort to network when we really need it, when in reality, building professional relationships should be ongoing. With this mind, find relevant talks, conferences or event in your niche, and make a concerted effort to attend several events per year. Whilst this may be out of your comfort zone, after a few events you’ll find yourself more relaxed and more confident in talking to people and building relationships.
Any chance you get to network with new people is an opportunity to test out your personal brand. Networking events and the content you create are chances to give your personal brand more exposure and see if it’s effective. You should be able to clearly communicate what makes you unique and what your overarching career goal is.