Active networking is vital to career growth. Often confused with selling, networking is actually about building long-term relationships and a good reputation over time. It involves meeting and getting to know people who you can assist, and who can potentially help you in return.
Your network includes everyone from friends and family, to work colleagues, business connections, your social network, and members of groups to which you belong. Regularly networking within your industry and discipline can set you up well to progress in your career. Nurturing relationships with your contacts is mutually beneficial. You can raise your professional profile and broaden your access to opportunities, plus work through industry challenges and gain satisfaction from assisting and connecting others in your network.
Here are some of the key networking benefits.
1. Strengthen business connections
Networking is about sharing, not taking. It is about forming trust and helping one another toward goals. Regularly engaging with your contacts and finding opportunities to assist them helps to strengthen the relationship. By doing this, you sow the seeds for reciprocal assistance when you need help to achieve your goals.
2. Get fresh ideas
Your network can be an excellent source of new perspectives and ideas to help you in your role. Exchanging information on challenges, experiences and goals is a key benefit of networking because it allows you to gain new insights that you may not have otherwise thought of. Similarly, offering helpful ideas to a contact is an excellent way to build your reputation as an innovative thinker.
3. Advance your career
Being visible and getting noticed is a benefit of networking that’s essential in career building. Regularly attending professional and social events will help to get your face known. You can then help to build your reputation as being knowledgeable, reliable and supportive by offering useful information or tips to people who need it.
4. Access new information
Networking is a great opportunity to exchange best practice knowledge, learn about the business techniques of your peers and stay abreast of the latest industry developments. A wide network of informed, interconnected contacts means broader access to new and valuable information.
5. Get career advice and support
Gaining the advice of experienced peers is an important benefit of networking. Discussing common challenges and opportunities opens the door to valuable suggestions and guidance. Offering genuine assistance to your contacts also sets a strong foundation for receiving support in return when you need it.
6. Build confidence
By continually putting yourself out there and meeting new people, you’re effectively stepping outside your comfort zone and building invaluable social skills and self-confidence that you can take with you anywhere. The more you network, the more you’ll grow and learn how to make lasting connections.
7. Gain a different perspective
It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day of your professional realm and end up in a rut. By talking to others in your field or people with expertise in a particular area, you can gain insights that only come from viewing a situation with fresh eyes. Asking for opinions from contacts you trust or admire can help you see things in a new light and overcome roadblocks that you might not have known how to circumvent otherwise.
8. Develop long-lasting personal relationships
Of course, the point of networking is to develop and nurture professional relationships, but some of the strongest and most long-standing friendships are borne from work connections. Your networking contacts are probably like-minded people with similar goals as your own, so it’s not unlikely that your professional support network will spill over into your personal friendships.
9. Get an answer to every question
As long as you have a strong network of professional connections, you can be confident that someone within your sphere will be able to answer even your toughest questions. And, if there’s no definitive answer, you’ll have a solid sounding board to bounce ideas off and put into action step-by-step plans to tackle bigger problems.
10. Find a job you love
Professional networking and expanding your contacts can create new opportunities for business, career advancement, personal growth, or simply new knowledge. You never know who might be hiring for your ideal job, or know someone who is, and the more people you have in your network, the more likely you are to be the first to know when those big job opportunities pop up.
How to network
As much as networking is beneficial to your career and even your personal life, the reality is that it doesn’t come naturally to many people. In fact, for some, the thought of starting a conversation with a stranger at a conference or event incites downright dread.
A good rule of thumb is to plan ahead and have a few relevant points of discussion in mind if you know you’re going to be in a situation where you’ll have the opportunity to meet new people. These conversation points don’t have to be all about work – they can even be about topics like hobbies or the event itself. The idea is to get the conversation flowing and leave room for future meetups and discussions. On that note, don’t forget to bring business cards so you can swap details easily.
For more on networking, check out our 10 networking tips that will work for anyone.