There’s a saying that goes, “Your network is your net worth.” There’s definitely a ring of truth to this statement. Getting that dream job or lucrative gig can be chalked up to being in the right place at the right time, or rather because of who you know rather than what you know.
But what does networking actually entail? How can do you it effectively?
First, let’s start with what networking actually means. Merriam-Webster defines “networking” as: “the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions.”
That’s a fairly apt description in a professional context: you’re exchanging information with other people as the result of a mutually beneficial relationship. This can be with people who you just met or have known for a long time through previous jobs or other activities like conferences and conventions, professional societies, and more informal professional groups that meet periodically.
However, people tend to have an outdated attitude towards networking: professional networking isn’t limited strictly to events designed for your industry, or more formal events like conferences. Those are definitely excellent resources of professional networking but not the only places. Think about your day-to-day life such as your local community and what you do for fun, and if you work in and out of coffee shops and co-working spaces where you may see some of the same people regularly. There’s a whole network there just waiting to be discovered. You don’t know if the person sitting next to you at a coffee shop or in yoga class knows the hiring manager at a place you’d love to work, or has the exact skill set that your business is looking for.
You network by talking to people and learning what you can both offer each other.
Why is professional networking so important?
If you’re looking for a job, building and going through your network is going to be more effective than just hitting the open market. Influencer Lou Adler conducted a survey and found that a staggering 85% of jobs were filled as a result of networking— meaning that only 15% result from job applications and other means of attracting potential candidates.
But trying to get a job or gig, or meet some other immediate economic need, isn’t the only reason you should network and why it’s important to growing your career. Your professional network is also a boundless source of knowledge. If you’re just entering a new industry, you’ll want to get firsthand advice from an industry veteran. Got a burning question about life insurance? It’s better to email that insurance agent you met in person who sees you as a peer instead of a sales prospect, instead of being at the mercy of search engines.
Getting firsthand knowledge from a professional, whether it’s for a matter affecting your career or your personal life, is incredibly valuable. If you want to really effectively network? You need to give back. Share your knowledge and skills. An exchange doesn’t have to be monetary: you can be giving legal advice in exchange for your computer’s network to be run faster. Professional networks also introduce their contacts to one another and you never know what kind of opportunities those contacts can present, or how you can help one another.
You should always be networking. It’s never too early to start. It just requires a simple change of attitude in that the end goal of networking doesn’t strictly have to be a job or a gig. This approach takes away the pressure that you, and the person you are speaking to, can feel if they don’t immediately know of a job opening or if they want to hire you for a project. By letting your skills and interest come up in conversation organically, it doesn’t feel forced and stiff which can be a common feeling at some events.
You can foster your professional relationships over email, social media, and other means of contact depending on how often you can expect to see that person. There are contacts in your network you may see once or twice a month, some just once a year. Nevertheless, you build value in your career by meeting people in all areas of expertise where you can form a mutually beneficial relationship. Sometimes networking efforts can produce friends and mentors, other times you’ll just get helpful tips for something important to your career or personal life.
No matter how you cut it, networking happens all around you and is vital to your professional growth.