- Professional networking is a deliberate act of creating and maintaining relationships iwth other people who can help you further your career or brand.
- Networking is a valuable act of maintenance even when you're not looking for a new job.
- Consider incorporating in-person and online networking into your regular routine.
If you ask anyone how they got where they are today, you'll quickly learn that many successful business professionals have connections. These connections, however, were likely not handed to them. Rather, they were forged through successful networking.
What is professional networking, and why is it important?
"Networking" is one of those words you hear tossed around in conversation, but do you really know what it means? "Networking is a deliberate activity to build, reinforce and maintain relationships of trust with other people to further your goals. Professional networking is simply networking focused on professional goals," wrote Anders Ostlund, founder of networking site Fryday, on Medium.
"Business revolves around people, and it is driven by relationships, which affect every aspect of business, from sales to recruitment," said Yiannis Gavrielides, CEO of Covve. "It is therefore important for us all to build and maintain real professional relationships."
With the power of social media, you can network simply by sending an invitation on LinkedIn or following a contact on Twitter. But with increased accessibility, it's more important than ever to build your personal brand and network like a pro. Here's how to do it.
1. Work on your LinkedIn profile.
Social media sites, particularly LinkedIn, have changed the networking landscape. Many people rely on their LinkedIn network for referrals, introductions, reviews and references, all of which come in handy when you are looking for a job, said Michael Brown, a career consultant and author of Fresh Passion: Get a Brand or Die a Generic (Greenleaf Book Group Press, 2013).
Brown added that anyone you deal with professionally should be added to your LinkedIn network. Even if your contact with these people was short, add them, because you are trying to grow your network.
LinkedIn is also a great space to learn about someone's professional and educational background to find similarities and create great conversation for a first meeting, according to Tyler Whitman, a licensed real estate salesperson at Triplemint. Whether it's for a job interview, a sales call or an alumni event, having some information about the person you will be talking to is a great advantage. If you can show that you have taken the time to make an effort, you will immediately make a good impression and will be more likely to be remembered.
2. Ask for help.
Don't be afraid to ask someone in your network to introduce you to someone they know, Brown said. This is business, he said, and most people are happy to connect you to someone who can help.
You can also ask for help from a networking "wingman." It can be awkward to brag about yourself to a stranger, said Whitman, but if you network with a friend, that person can talk about you and your success, and you can do the same for them.
3. Keep in touch.
Networking is not a one-and-done deal, where you meet a contact and speak with them only when you need something. If you really want to connect, you should nurture a sustainable, give-and-take relationship.
"After meeting someone, assuming there is rapport, I make sure I stay in touch," said Gavrielides. "Staying in touch with people requires effort, and it is important to regularly re-engage … I feel that conversations must be natural, but the effort to re-engage must be conscious, as we are all too busy to do it effortlessly."
Ostlund noted that while social media sites are a good way to begin relationships, these relationships require in-person meetings to build depth. Trust is hard to develop without the personal interaction involved in face-to-face conversation, he wrote.
4. Never stop looking for opportunities (but do it right).
Focus on growth, and think about the people you encounter daily, Brown said. Grab a business card, or search for them on LinkedIn, if there is any chance you can call on them professionally in the future.
One key tip to keep in mind is not to be selfish when you network, Whitman. Create a foundation first, he said. Learn about the other person, and tell them about you. Once there is a foundation, it's OK to ask for what you want, but don't jump the gun and ask for a favor outright. Offer an exchange of information, if possible, or take the time to build up genuine camaraderie before trying to leverage the person's connections to your advantage. No one wants to feel used.
"Networking should be authentic and should be part of both our business and professional lives," Gavrielides said. "We are naturally social beings and should ensure we socialize rather than engage in forced exchange. The relationships I built along the way are now customers, suppliers, partners, colleagues, investors … [and] many are close friends."
How can networking help your career?
Both online and in-person networking have become essential to success in finding the next step in a career. According to job search tool ZipRecruiter, 73% of recruiters have hired a candidate through social media, and 93% of recruiters review a candidate's social media profiles before deciding to hire them. More important, 60% of the best candidates are referred by others. You can't ignore the power of a network.
However, the benefits of networking go beyond referrals and consideration for new job opportunities. Professional development expands your skills and knowledge base. By interacting with others in your field, you learn what people outside your company or niche are doing, giving you a fresh perspective. You will also have ready access to a group of experts who can help you figure out the answers to your toughest questions. Asking for help is one of the best ways to keep that connection going, as is sharing best practices.
With that in mind, don't overlook industry events as great opportunities for professional networking. Do your homework in advance, so you know who you want to meet. Then, with your talking points in hand, introduce yourself. You are on your way to an expanded professional network.