The word networking may sound intimidating or confusing. What is networking? How do you network? Why is it so important? We’re here to demystify networking. Learn what it means, and find tips for successfully networking to further your career.
What is networking?
If you’ve ever met new people and built relationships that helped you learn something or achieve a goal—you’ve networked!
Networking simply means connecting with people and cultivating a mutually beneficial relationship. That time you wanted to join a club on campus, so you met students who were in the club, became friendly, and eventually joined the club? Networking. It’s something that doesn’t need to be scary, and you’ve most likely networked before.
Why is networking important?
As you build your career, networking will play a major role in how you find new jobs and professional opportunities. The people in your network can give you career advice, insight into a new role or industry, or connect you to someone at an employer you want to work for.
How to network in 5 steps
Start with who you know
By the time you graduate from college, you’ve already built a small network. Start by reaching out to who you already know—it’s great practice, and you never know where your current connections could lead.
Who is in your current network? Your network includes family, friends, roommates, alumni, club or organization members, former and current coworkers, neighbors, and more. Ask the people around you if they know anyone who is in a career field that interests you, or works for an employer you’d like to learn more about.
Be open to meeting new people
Throughout your career, but especially when you're starting out, go out of your way to meet new people. Don’t discount a new acquaintance because they don't have a connection to an employer or role you want. The more people you meet and share your career goals with the better.
And remember, networking is an “always on” activity, meaning you should seek out new connections and nurture your network even when you’re not looking for a job. As long as you’re in the workforce, you should be building professional relationships.
Seek out opportunities
Depending on the industry or roles that interest you, there are likely professional groups that you can join. Many of these groups will have a subgroup for recent grads and young professionals. You can also seek out professional organizations or networking opportunities specifically for underrepresented groups. Do a little digging online, and reach out to friends or alumni that may know of opportunities in your area.
If you’re new to networking events, ask a friend with similar career interests if they’d attend with you. Having a buddy with you could help calm your nerves and give you a boost of confidence. But remember, you won’t be the only one that is nervous! Go in with a positive attitude and a smile, and you may be pleasantly surprised by the experience.
Be curious and ask questions
Networking isn’t just about meeting people who can help you. The most successful professional relationships are between two people that are interested in learning about and supporting each other. So instead of just focusing on yourself and what you’re looking for, ask thoughtful questions and get to know the person you're talking to.
Think of some questions ahead of time that can keep your conversation going. When in doubt, when someone asks you a question, turn the question around and ask somthing similar after you’ve answered.
Here are a few questions to get you started:
- Have you always been interested in this role/industry?
- How did you get started in your current role?
- What’s your favorite part about your job/employer?
Follow-up and stay in contact
Just like meeting a new friend, when you meet someone you’d like to include in your professional network, ask to exchange contact information. Connect or follow them online, and send them a quick note within a couple of days. Tell them you enjoyed meeting them and mention something you discussed so they remember your conversation. Follow up on any next steps you may have discussed, like scheduling a time to have coffee.
It’s important to build your network relationships over time. Don’t just reach out to people when you need something. Your contact will see through that, or—if it’s a long time since you met, they may not remember you. Keep an eye out for ways to reach out to your network regularly. If you see that someone has been promoted or has a new job, send a note to congratulate them. If you see an article or that you think they’d like, share it.
Nurturing a strong professional network is one of the best ways to build your career. Start practicing your networking skills and you may be surprised by where it leads you!