Artwork by: Ivan Globin
We’ve all heard of professional networking, but what exactly does it mean? We explain everything you need to know about the benefits of growing your network and career networking.
The concept of networking can be difficult to understand, much less achieve. There aren’t hard rules to networking, and sometimes, you might be doing it without even realizing it. For as technical and methodical as the workforce can be, networking is one of the few innately organic aspects.
It's everywhere. It’s the image you see when you look in the mirror in the morning. It’s the way you greet people. The way you react to good news, and the actions that you take in response to bad.
Everything you do in your professional life can be circled back to networking. How?
Because for every action you make, there is going to be another professional watching from the other side of the room. Maybe they’re wondering what led you to do the thing you just did, and how they can do it too. Or maybe they see you, are impressed by what you offer, and decide instantly that they want you on their team.
This same sentiment is reflected repeatedly in professional networking. It's constant, whether you’re knowingly participating in it or not. We are going to discuss the reasons for growing your network, and how it can help you progress your career.
In this article, you’ll find
The top benefits of networking
How to find people to network with
The 3 types of networking
Examples of successful networking
Take a moment to think back on all the opportunities you’ve been provided in life. How many of those did you achieve 100% on your own? Without direction, insight, advice, or connections from outside sources.
Now consider how much easier those pursuits could have been with a little bit of guidance.
Pursuing anything in life is going to be made easier by the more people you have on your team. And if they’re not on your team yet, you at least want them to know that you’re playing the game.
By far the greatest benefit to growing your professional network is that it increases the number of times your name is said in professional settings. You want people talking about your work, suggesting you for opportunities that come across their desks, and vouching for your work ethic. Referrals can be really usefull!
The more people that know about you, the more you’ll be noticed. Make enough connections, and before you know it, you’ll have accidentally found yourself to be a front-runner in your professional community.
It doesn’t matter how good your ideas are, they will always be made better by the efforts of collaboration. Do you have a wild idea that you want to make happen? Talk to one manufacturer and they’ll refer you to a sales specialist, who will mention you to their marketing friend, and suddenly, you have a full team eager to hop on board.
There are times in your career when you will make intentional advances toward another professional, and there will be times that it happens coincidentally.
These two routes can be thought of as direct and indirect networks. Let’s take a look at what they refer to.
Direct networks are going to be your very literal, tangible connections in life. Think of your college peers, colleagues, or people you attended a workshop with. Because of your shared experiences together, you have a mutual trust. Many people cling to these types of connections and grow their relationship from a network into a professional partnership.
One of the most pertinent tools for professionally connecting with people around the world is the website LinkedIn. You’d be remiss to let this networking cornucopia go unutilized as you progress your career.
Indirect networks are connections with people who you know second handedly. Think of your parent’s network, a friend of a friend, or even a company you respect but have no ties to. These connections weren’t necessarily intentional, but they occurred naturally, at times making them more prosperous.
There is another type of network available, but it requires more effort than either direct or indirect. That is a recruiter network.
Networking with recruiters is actually quite easy because reaching out to them makes their job easier. While it might seem intimidating, after your first go at it, you’ll find that recruiters are really easy to talk to.
To find a recruiter, simply look up a company that you admire. Go to their LinkedIn profile, and search through their ‘people’ tab. The recruiter will have a title like, “Talent Acquisition Specialist”, “Hiring Manager”, or simply, “Recruiter”. Click on their personal profile, and send them a message asking them to connect. Ask a question or offer a ‘call to action’ to get the ball rolling.
That’s it, you’ve now entered their network!
Recruiters are just like any other person in your network, except they have a bit more reach. Recruiters are trusted members of the workforce, trained to spot a great candidate and filter through the masses. If a recruiter knows your name, you can just about guarantee that before long, you’ll be called to fill a role.
The difficulty of networking is pretty subjective. For those who generally enjoy connecting with other people in any aspect of life, networking might come a bit easier. But remember, the workforce is made up of a plethora of diverse people. A lot of successful networking is achieved simply by talking with people that you hit it off with. It doesn’t matter who you are, you are bound to find your kind of people in the professional realm.
The good news is that networking is a skill, therefore it can be developed and refined. If you’re new to networking, just start introducing yourself. It doesn’t matter if you’re at a professional event or not, you never know what kind of door will open just by talking.
If you’ve been growing your network for a while but want to take it to the next level, you need to try applying some strategy. Seek out a company that you want to work with, find people who work there, and reach out.
You’ve probably heard of the age-old technique of the elevator pitch or elevator speech. The idea behind this technique is that if you were to enter an elevator and start chatting with whoever is on it, you’d be able to summarize your work in the time before either of you disembarks.
It’s recommended that every professional have an elevator speech. This is one of the quickest ways to initiate networking. It’s fairly non-consequential too because if you don’t ride that elevator often, and you didn’t get a chance to exchange contacts, chances are you won't see that person again.
The following categories of networking are generalizations. You might experience them in an overlapping way, or see them play out separately.
This form of networking refers to filling an immediate need. You will likely reach out to people you know directly through a professional avenue, and the goal is to complete a task.
Don’t let this networking opportunity end when the task is complete though. It’s important to focus on the relationship-building component too so that down the road you can turn to this person again, and vice versa.
This form of networking is less dependent on accomplishing a task and has more to do with your personal career advancements. Think of the saying, “It pays to know people’. That is a direct reference to personal networks.
Many professionals experience imposter syndrome at some point in their careers. It’s that feeling when you walk into a room and feel like you can’t compare to anyone else there. It makes you feel small, and like no matter how true your background is, it feels like a lie. Having a connection to back you up and validate your worth is so incredibly valuable. It allows you to become the person that everyone in the room wants to meet, rather than the one that gets the side eye.
Not sure where to start with personal networking? Think of a fact about your professional self, such as “I’m excellent at B2B marketing strategies”. Next, go find someone else who feels like they excel at marketing. Discuss marketing strategies together. The next time you are together in a circle chatting with other professionals, casually mention marketing strategies, and how you both agree that X, Y, and Z are bulletproof approaches. That person will agree, and you’ve just made yourself a valuable asset.
As the name implies, strategic networking involves more than simply making a connection. It’s an approach that requires you to be on the defense and offense simultaneously. Perhaps you want to grow an organization or propel a project forward. You will need stakeholders to do so.
To lock down a stakeholder, you need to impress upon them the importance of your line of work, convince them that they want to be a part of it, and guarantee they’ll receive a return on their investment.
This is possibly the most nuanced application of networking, but it also comes with the greatest reward. You need to exude confidence and be personable, while also bringing in elements of psychology to appease them.
Mohammed has been a teacher for three years and is preparing to move to a new state. He doesn’t know anyone in the town he’s moving to, but one of his friends from college, Becca, used to live there. He reaches out to Becca, who still knows someone who works in the town’s school district. Becca tells her connection about Mohammed’s move. This person, in turn, lets her know that a local school is desperately looking for teachers. Mohammed applies to that school, using Becca’s connection as a referral, and is able to land a job.
While in line for refreshments at a professional soccer game, Lupita overhears the woman in front of her comment on how ugly the new uniforms are. Lupita laughs and agrees with the woman, saying she would be fired if she suggested those colors to her art director. The woman asks what design company Lupita works for. As it turns out, the woman also works in design. They exchange contacts and meet up the following week.
Aiden is a software developer in between jobs. Aiden used to work with Bella, who is now the regional manager of a large department store. One day, Bella is in a meeting with brand managers and one of them discloses their need for a software developer for their website. Bella recommends Aiden, who is then able to connect with the brand. Over time, Aiden ends up working on many different company websites and is able to use the work with that first brand as a starting point.
It doesn’t matter who you are, there is a professional network for you.
Career networking can happen at any time or place.
Be prepared to network, think about who you need to join your network in order to grow your career.
Emma is a certified employment specialist with over six years of experience in career mentorship and employment training. Emma is passionate about nurturing professional growth and helping people gain momentum in their field. She uses her writing and strategic career planning skills to help her clients fulfill their aspirations and reach new chapters in their professions. In 2020, she helped design Colorado’s first state-certified training program for people with disabilities entering the workforce.