Updated: May 19, 2021
You probably hear a lot about networking — most likely someone nagging you to do more of it. However, we don’t often get a clear definition of what it is or a concise explanation of why it's beneficial for our careers.
The simple fact is, if you want your career to go places and you want to ensure that you hear about every possible opportunity, then you need to network. Some have even called networking the essential professional skill.
So, what is networking and why is it so important?
What is professional networking?
Networking becomes a little clearer if we give it a different name: professional relationship building. It’s all about getting out there (both on and offline), meeting people who work in your profession or your industry, and building a relationship with them. The goal of networking is to create a professional network. That means a group of professional contacts you know well enough to call in a favor from and for whom you wouldn’t object doing a favor. It’s as simple as that.
Since the launch of professional social networks like LinkedIn, networking has become a whole lot easier. The ease with which these sites allow you to connect with others can be deceiving, though. A purely online connection isn’t likely to be especially strong. Whenever you can, look for face-to-face networking opportunities. By all means, connect online after meeting people, but you’ll develop stronger bonds with people you’ve met in person.
Five reasons networking is crucial — whatever your career stage
#1. You might find a mentor
Network in the right places and the chances are that you’ll meet a lot of experienced professionals and experts in your sector. If you’re at the beginning of your career, getting tips and insights from those who’ve been there and done it all before can be priceless.
If you have a great chat with someone at, for example, an event don’t be afraid to ask to exchange contact details and to ask if you can follow up with them later.
#2. You may hear about opportunities that aren’t public yet
Many jobs (perhaps even most jobs) aren’t advertised. So, if you want to be in with a chance of getting that sought after internal promotion, or moving to a more interesting or challenging role with a new company, you’ll need to network to find out about them. The fact is that people recommend people they know and like. So, even if you’re not networking directly with a group directly responsible for hiring, there’s a good chance that someone in your network will have the opportunity to make a recommendation.
#3. Considering moving? You may know an insider who can give you information
Perhaps you’ve seen a job advertised that looks perfect for you, but you don’t know much about the company. Or you’ve heard there may be an opportunity opening up, but you’ve also heard that the company culture might not be all that great. You could just hope for the best, or you could reach out to your network to see if anyone can give you an insider’s view. A quick cup of coffee with someone who knows what life is really like at the company you’re considering can be invaluable.
#4. You’ll learn more about your industry, its future, and its challenges
While you shouldn’t limit your networking to a single industry, the chances are that most of the people you meet with will work in the same sector as you. This means it can be a great opportunity to learn about the latest moves in your industry and stay abreast of major developments.
#5. You’ll learn about new trends and best practices
Networking can be a great source of fresh ideas, new perspectives, and ideas to help you in your day-to-day job. This sort of networking is easy online. Join relevant groups or look out for specialist professional forums (often hosted by professional bodies) where you can ask and answer work-related questions.
Embrace the possibilities
When it’s done properly, professional networking can open all sorts of doors. The key is reciprocation: if you’re open to helping others, then there’s a strong chance they’ll help you right back. Embrace this philosophy and your networking could lead to, well, pretty much anything!