Networking might be one of the keys to professional success, but not everyone networks effectively – or at all.
Creating and building connections with people in your industry delivers several benefits, both professionally and personally. When you’re just out of college, networking can be even more beneficial, introducing you to individuals and businesses who can help build your career.
Understanding the importance of networking and then identifying effective ways to make these connections can be transformative for your career. Use this guide to learn more about how networking can benefit you and how you to network with people successfully.
Benefits to networking
Networking isn’t new in the business world. Face-to-face networking began long before social media and LinkedIn made it possible to connect with colleagues virtually.
No matter the field you work in – or plan to work in – networking helps you build your profile within your industry. Connecting with like-minded individuals or potential clients and customers delivers benefits, both professionally and personally.
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The professional benefits of networking are clear. It can help build your profile in your industry. If you work in sales, for example, knowing how to make connections is extremely important. After all, it’s through these connections that you can find potential customers.
Networking can also introduce you to other individuals who may be able to help you in your career. It’s an incredibly productive way to get leads on jobs if you’re on the hunt for new opportunities. A colleague at another company who you have an established relationship with may tip you off to an open position that you’d be a good fit for.
Or, if you really impress someone through a networking relationship, they might create a job opportunity especially for you.
Building connections with others can also be good for your business. Businesses thrive when they are engaged in the community and connected to industry leaders. Whether you’re at a professional conference in your field or at a casual happy hour, you’re not just representing yourself, you’re also representing your company. In doing so, you can build your company’s profile, find new ways to connect with other local businesses, and perhaps even find some new potential coworkers along the way.
Finally, talking to people outside of your organization allows you to stay on top of trends in your industry. You can also develop a sounding board of other professionals with whom you can troubleshoot problems. Together, you can identify best practices in your field and learn how to implement them.
Networking also promises some personal benefits as well. Even though business lunches and happy hours are for work purposes, they also offer some socialization – and perhaps some socialization that you can’t find elsewhere.
When you’re at the office, your conversations focus on business. When you’re spending time with family and friends, you likely avoid talking about work too much.
Knowing how to make connections offers the best of both worlds: You can engage socially with people who relate to you on a professional level. Some people find real and lasting friendships through networking, which can help build a support system as you navigate your career. Plus, with working remotely from home more common, the social aspect of having a network is becoming increasingly important.
How to network effectively
Your goal when building connecitons is ultimately to develop those connections into mutually beneficial relationships. Understanding effective networking strategies, then, is key. Fortunately, you have many options when it comes to networking successfully, so follow these tips to network like a pro – even if you’re a novice.
Know where to look
Networking opportunities are everywhere, but you need to know where to look for them that makes the most sense for you
Consider these strategies to connect with professionals in your industry:
- Professional organizations. Look for industry-specific professional organizations to get involved with. Become a member and start participating in the organization’s events. You’ll benefit from professional development opportunities like workshops and conferences. Plus, you can enjoy some socializing with professionals in your field through organization-sponsored social events.
- Local organizations. You can also step outside of your industry to find local professionals to network with. Consider your local chamber of commerce if you work for a local business or organization designed for young professionals. You very well may meet some individuals within your field and professionals in other industries who may be good contacts.
- Social media. Generate networking opportunities through social media sites like LinkedIn. Look for individuals and groups on these sites who are active in your industry. Follow their feeds and engage by posting comments and links to helpful articles. Keep an eye out for related industry events you can attend, either virtually or in person.
- Alumni associations. Stay connected with your fellow graduates through your alumni association. These groups often get together for both professional and social events year-round, which gives you another chance to connect.
- Volunteer organizations. Volunteering allows you to meet individuals in different industries. If you choose an organization that’s meaningful to you, you’ll find people with similar interests supporting the cause. You can build on this commonality to establish a lasting professional relationship.
When you identify a networking event to attend, show up prepared. Arrive with both printed and electronic business cards. Include your social media contact information on your cards, such as your LinkedIn page, website, and Twitter handle (if you use that platform for business purposes). That way, you make it easy for others to connect virtually with you after the event.
Once you find a professional organization to join, look for leadership opportunities. While you might start as a chair of a small event, you can eventually build your way up to a larger leadership role, which builds your profile within your industry.
This volunteer opportunity isn’t just great resume material. It’s also an effective way of promoting yourself in your field and connecting with individuals from other businesses.
Develop your pitch
Decide what the goal of networking is for you. Are you trying to build professional relationships, recruit employees, or secure new clients? Work on your pitch before a professional event so that you’re prepared to chat and engage with strangers. Your pitch shouldn’t sound salesy. Instead, focus on introducing yourself, providing a bit about your background, and sharing your goals.
Focus on quality relationships
Remember, connecting with people isn’t about having the most contacts. Sure, you might walk out of an event with dozens of business cards, but consider how many connections you truly made. Instead of trying to talk to every person at an event to acquire their contact information, target a few people to have meaningful conversations with.
Those with the best networkers don’t necessarily have the most contacts. They have fruitful, mutual relationships with colleagues who can offer insight, connections, and information that benefits them.
Networking do’s and don’ts
When you network, you want to come off as professional and confident but not smug. Check out these do’s and don’ts to ensure that you’re on track when you start networking.
Do dress the part
Dress professionally for every networking event. Consider your industry when planning your attire. Your best bet is to wear a similar outfit that you would wear to work. That way, you won’t be overdressed or underdressed, you’ll be comfortable and confident, and you’ll look the part.
Don’t talk too much
Communicating effectively is a must-have skill in business, and especially when you’re networking. Pay attention to make sure you’re not dominating the conversation. While you want to share your thoughts and introduce yourself, you don’t want to come off as pushy or self-centered.
Engage in a reciprocal conversation. When your colleague asks you a question, reply and then ask another question in return to keep the conversation two-sided.
Do follow up
Attending networking events is effective only if you follow up. Reach out to your contacts shortly after the event. Send an email to thank them for their time, and follow up on your conversation. Just like personal relationships, you can only build professional relationships if you nurture them with regular contact.
Don’t ask for a job
At times, the purpose of your networking may be to find a job. However, don’t ask for one outright, especially to a new contact. Once you have an established relationship with that person, you can mention your interest. If you lead with that, however, it’ll be obvious that you’re using your new contact solely for getting the job.
Networking takes effort, time, and, often, stepping outside of your comfort zone. However, the time you put into networking can be worth it. You’ll build your professional profile, engage with new contacts, and boost your business’ reputation. Focus on quality relationships that you nurture and develop over time, and your network will thrive.