When you ask professionals how they feel about networking, it’s a mixed bag of responses. While most seem to believe networking can be beneficial to their careers, many view it as an anxiety-ridden, awkward, or uncomfortable activity they’d rather not have to engage in.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the many benefits of networking and how it can influence your career and personal life.
What is networking and why is it so difficult?
What are the network types?
6 Benefits of networking
What is networking?
When we look at the literal definition of networking, it is described as the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business. Nothing too intimidating, right? So, why does it so often seem selfish, as though we’re impositioning someone by just having a conversation to see whether there might be synergy to reciprocate support?
According to an article in Psychology Today, by Ben Dattner, Ph.d., it may be because we misunderstand how to network in practice. “Most people think of networking as temporary and episodic, for example, as a way to get a job or close a deal,” says Dattner, “instead of as an ongoing process.” Dattner says this is a mistake. Understanding what the people in your network care about, he says, is what to focus on to be most helpful to them, which in turn makes it more likely, per the nature of reciprocity, that they will be helpful to you.
When you can look at it as building relationships that are win-win, or social partnerships, it makes growing your professional circle feel less opportunistic. You don’t have to network with everyone either. Rather, look for contacts whose success you can contribute to who also have knowledge, insights, or connections you might benefit from.
Why is networking important?
According to Hubspot, 85% of all open jobs are filled through networking. But that doesn’t necessarily persuade professionals to join in. Some statistics show only 15 in 63 jobseekers rely on connections to land a job.
When it comes to the importance of networking, new job opportunities are just one valuable aspect of intentionally making professional connections. Meeting people in different position levels can help you gain perspective and access insights about working with different role types.
Other benefits might include gaining and giving support or building alliances with individuals you might not otherwise have a chance to connect with. When you help others, you become a valuable resource, gain visibility, grow as a professional, advance faster, and can also share leads. As such, an important first step to successful networking is taking an inventory of what skills, expertise, or talents you bring to the table.
What are the types of networks?
The following three network types have overlaps but will give you an idea of the variety of potential and existing contacts you might consider approaching to build connections.
Current or former colleagues, managers, supervisors, and partners
Family, long-term relationships, and old friends
Alumni groups and other educational connections
Classmates, sororities, or fraternities
Professors, instructors, and coaches
New friends, like-minded people with similar goals
Online relationships like LinkedIn or user forums
Community service clubs, volunteer, and church group connections
Current or former customers and clients
Networking events, business network groups or message boards
Conferences, workshops, seminars, and training
What are 6 benefits of networking?
So, you can probably tell networking is very much about leveraging relationships, but what makes it essential are the many benefits to your career as well as how it can enrich both parties' lives personally. Let’s explore six ways networking can help your career and personal life.
1. Career development
One of the greatest benefits of networking with other professionals is they may have already traveled the path you’re on and beyond. Learning how other professionals have navigated their own career success may inspire you to adopt new strategies or pursue different learning paths.
Career development is a very personal thing. After all, you likely won’t have exactly the same background and experiences as anyone else. The more professionals you have access to, the greater the variety of perspectives and career approaches you’ll get to see.
Maybe the best benefit of all is that networking may help you sort out your path and create your personal brand. Most people don’t have a career blueprint when they start out; they have lots of ideas, or no ideas and just a loose plan. Determining where you want to take your career next really is a journey that can be aided by the support of others.
2. Career advice and advancement
Networking can enable access to resources and support. Potential mentors and fellow professionals in the same field can help you increase your skill set. Network with those who can either give you feedback, or with those who are at more senior levels and, therefore, can propose steps to career advancement.
You can’t know what you’ve not yet learned. Many senior-level professionals are willing to help others, in a variety of ways, when they are appreciated. But, similar to the interview question, “Why should I hire you?”, professionals will be asking themselves the question, “Why should I support you, or help you become more successful”? You need to have an answer to this question because just wanting to advance for yourself isn’t a good enough reason.
Conversely, know your own strengths and expertise to be able to reciprocate. You may also be introduced to a connection’s contacts, enabling you to further expand your networking opportunities.
3. Job opportunities and new clients
Whether you’re looking for your next job, insights into the job market itself, or a recommendation, professional networks are definitely a good way to make inquiries, learn about unpublished job openings, and build local and global relationships. It’s also a common practice for service agencies to refer clients to other, more niche, or complementary service providers.
4. Knowledge exchange
As the saying goes, “two heads are better than one”, and networking can give you built-in collaborators or a sounding board for common interests. Through the exchange of knowledge is where you may learn the scope of potential for an idea, explore partnership opportunities, and benefit from and contribute to the transfer of valuable information.
5. Personal growth and long-lasting relationships
There are many side advantages to networking that can enrich you as a person, and spill over into your professional life. In addition to building what could turn out to be long-lasting relationships, at minimum, you will be practicing your social skills (also known as soft skills), including how you communicate and interact with others.
Meeting new people can be intimidating, so these soft skills are very valuable in work-life scenarios. Most job descriptions today list communication skills as a requirement. We know self-confidence is a desirable trait also—especially among leaders—and networking is one way to work on building that. Finally, networking can provide a feeling of community or a sense of belonging and bonding over shared interests.
6. Referrals and recommendations
It would be nice if all your customers told all their friends—and they will, organically, if the service or product you provide is exceptional—but it can really give you, as a jobseeker, or your business a leg up to have a network of contacts, with their own connections, to ask for those referrals and recommendations.
If you have a good relationship with your network contact, it can be a quick call, but if it’s someone you’ve worked with, a customized email template could be the way to go.
Not making networking part of your career strategy is a missed opportunity that could cost you growth paths you’ve not even considered.
Build relationships that are win-win.
Take an inventory of what skills, expertise, or talents you bring to the table.
Determine which contacts from your professional, business, and social networks you might approach to build connections.
Important benefits of networking include: gaining perspective on where to take your career next; access to resources and support; gaining wisdom; getting advice on advancing your career, or getting a promotion; learning about job openings; building local and global connections; finding a partner; sharing customer leads or contacts; exchanging valuable knowledge and information; being part of a community of like-minded individuals; sharpening your social skills; getting referrals; being recommended for a job; building lifelong relationships and friendships.