Networking is often described as the most important factor in getting a job, landing a promotion or even holding on to a desirable position.
Yet, people often hear the term and think it means they must attend functions where they must introduce themselves and hand out business cards, and ask strangers for job leads. If that’s what you are thinking, think again.
Networking has evolved into a process of building solid professional relationships that involve exchanging communication, ideas and information. It’s about creating ongoing dialogue with peers, associates, individuals in positions you may aspire to, and those with knowledge and insight into your profession – or a profession in which you may have interest.
Building a network
To make networking work for you, start by identifying people you already know. Those who know you, your background and your skills represent a key network foundation. From there, you can expand and develop your network both online and off. Consider these avenues:
- Online sources: Sites such as LinkedIn offer effective ways to get in touch with people with whom you have worked or know on a more casual or social basis. They, in turn, may be able to introduce you to other people you’d like to get to know. It pays to do more than just “connect” in these online groups. Take some time to learn how to use and leverage resources on the sites.
- Career and leads groups: In many locations, you’ll find groups that exist to share job leads and opportunities. Beyond finding out about specific positions, these groups can help you get a better idea of what organizations are hiring in your area. They also can be excellent sources of tips and advice on how to improve your presence in other networking situations, online and off.
- Professional groups: Almost every profession has an association or informal group, online or off, to further education and connections within the field. Do some research to identify the ones that best meet your goals, and become active in those.
- Community organizations: Whether it’s a neighborhood association, church committee, volunteer opportunity, hiking group or your Spanish language class, you often can effectively expand your network close to home. General business groups, such as Toastmasters and the local Better Business Bureau, can also be good resources.
Networking is far less intimidating when you realize it’s really not all about you. Take the approach of learning something interesting about others. Start by asking questions about the person with whom you are talking. Learn about his or her business, career path and interests outside the workplace. Even in social situations, good conversation can easily include the chance to ask someone about what they do in their work and about their company.
Learn by listening – carefully. A good two-way conversation will almost always lead into the other person taking an interest in what you do and what you’d like to do.
As you expand your network, you’ll find that you will continue to meet more people and make more connections, receive valuable career advice and learn of job opportunities – often before those positions are openly posted. This means you can come to a company through a referral, which can be positive for both you and your referral source.
Through developing a network, you’ll likely learn about companies and organizations – of all sizes and types – whose names you may not immediately recognize, but that could open the door to new opportunities. You’ll gain input on interview preparation and may meet important role models and mentors.
Remember, too, that networking is not just a one-time activity to do while job-hunting. Developing a professional network is an ongoing activity throughout your career that will help you improve the quality of your work and increase job satisfaction.
Looking through the employer lens
Understanding the benefits networking accrues to employers also can help you understand the benefits of career-long networking.
Companies frequently fill jobs through trusted referrals, without posting the positions. They frequently find that referral employees are better performers, and create more engagement in the business when hired. Employees hired through referrals typically have longer retention periods. Many human resource executives consider referrals the “secret weapons” in building performance-driven organizations.
It may be time to update your definition of networking, and view the process as an ongoing way to meet and learn from new, interesting people. You will find doors opening to opportunities that very well might otherwise stay closed.