When was the last time you focused on networking efforts?
If you can’t remember, or if it’s been a long time, this is something you need to focus on incorporating into your life. Many people tend to think they hate networking. But really, networking isn’t so bad. And the results it can bring about in your career are absolutely worth it.
Here’s how to network the right way–the way that helps you get more connections, more knowledge, and more growth in your professional career.
What Is Networking?
You probably already know what networking is. But just in case: Networking can be defined as interacting with other people to exchange ideas and information, with the goal of professional growth. It’s not all about self-promotion. There should be mutual benefits involved.
Usually, networking involves meeting new people. Sometimes it happens face-to-face at a happy hour or conference event. Other times, it happens screen-to-screen via a webinar or a LinkedIn group.
Networking often happens among people in the same industry–people who share a profession or interests. It can take place in casual settings or more formal ones. The key is that you’re always looking for opportunities to expand your professional network.
If the idea of networking and creating professional relationships makes you cringe, you aren’t alone! Lots of people shrink away from networking events. However, it’s essential to look for networking opportunities–whether you’re in the market for a new job or not.
The Importance Of Networking For Professional Growth
In today’s world, networking is more important than ever. Think about it: The industry you choose to work in, the position you land, and the key steps in your career are all influenced by other people. And you influence others in their career journeys, too. To succeed, we all have to rely on each other–and that’s where the importance of networking comes in.
The more people you network with, the more likely you’ll know people who can help you out at every stage in life. You’ll be able to get solid advice and knock on doors that may not have been an opportunity otherwise.
Bottom line: Networking is a must. You never know who you’re going to meet, what you’re going to discover about yourself, or what you want to do. You just might find a new passion.
Meeting New People Creates New Opportunities
When you’re looking to grow, new people can help connect you to new opportunities. But when it comes to networking, not just anyone will do. Focus on connecting with people who can help you get where you want to go.
This might mean networking with people who are a few steps ahead of you in their careers. They can mentor and guide you along the way. People who are ahead of you will push you to be better.
You should also network with peers so you can create a strong group of friends to walk through life together. It’s healthy to spend time with people who are experiencing the same things you are.
Look for people who are ambitious, people who are willing to be helpful, and people who are going somewhere. These are the type of people who will help you go somewhere, too. Whether within your current job or outside of it, make sure you’re networking with the right kind of people who will help your professional growth.
Growth Comes From Getting Out Of Your Comfort Zone
Have a positive mindset as you get started with networking. The process might feel intimidating, but stay positive–look for solutions and expect to find them. People with positive attitudes are more pleasant to be around. The more cheerful you are, the more people will flock to you!
Fear is a negative emotion. It can prevent you from trying new things (like attending networking events). Negative thoughts stop us from growing and advancing in life. As you begin your networking journey, focus on positive self-talk instead.
For example, instead of thinking, “I don’t want to network; I’ve never done that before,” instead think, “I’m going to try networking because I could learn something new.” This positive self-talk is a way to “train your brain” into having a more positive outlook.
Another way to be successful with networking is to think about what “success” in this area will look like for you. Do you want to attend a certain number of networking events? Meet a certain number of people? Gain an invitation to interview for a job?
Networking looks different for everyone. Maybe you aren’t looking for a new job right now. That’s completely okay. But you never know when your situation might change, and you may be relying on the kindness of those new contacts to help you find a new position.
Beyond that, networking is simply a great way to help you grow. Growth comes from getting out of your comfort zone–and often, that’s what networking requires.
Once you’ve defined what networking success means for you, you will be able to make progress on meeting that goal. Believe in yourself and your abilities–and don’t forget to have fun! Networking isn’t all bad. It can be a nice change of pace to get out of the office and see new faces. Be willing to push and challenge yourself to see what different networking scenarios can teach you.
10 Networking Statistics You Need To Know
Still not convinced of the benefits of expanding your network? Check out these statistics proving why you should start networking ASAP (and covering some obstacles that we’ll discuss later on):
- 85% of jobs are filled through networking. —HubSpot
- 70% of people found a job through connections in a company. —Review42
- Business executives disclosed they would lose 28% of their business if they stopped networking. —NovoResume
- 49% of people who don’t maintain contact with their network said they don’t have enough time for networking. —Zippia
- 70% of small business owners do their networking online. —Fit Small Business
- 70% of jobs are not advertised, making networking crucial. —FinancesOnline
- 80% of professionals consider professional networking to be important for career success. —LinkedIn
- Over 35% of LinkedIn users said casual conversations on LinkedIn Messages led to new opportunities. —GoRemotely
- Getting co-workers to network reduces the likelihood of turnover by 140%. —TeamStage
- 38% of professionals think networking is most active in restaurants. —WritersBlockLive
5 Ways To Network Like A Pro
From social media to networking events to volunteering for a good cause, there are plenty of ways you can start networking to meet new people, build relationships, and advance your professional career. If you don’t know where to start, take a look at these five options to help you accelerate your professional success.
If you don’t have a lot of time, networking via social media could be a great fit for you. Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social platforms provide an easy way to find job openings or exchange information with people all over the world.
The simplest way to start networking on social media is to send a brief message to someone new–maybe Facebook friends, or a LinkedIn profile that catches your eye.
After you’ve engaged with someone’s posts over time, send a direct message to your new contact, keeping things warm and friendly yet still professional and polite.
Demonstrate how connecting could be beneficial for you both — you want something from them, but what do you have to offer to help make the connection more genuine and valuable?
When trying to network, though, it’s absolutely essential for your message to be specific and personalized–no copy and pasting here. Remember, you want to come across as authentic in order to foster a real and meaningful relationship.
You should also interact with other peoples’ posts as well as sharing original content of your own. This can help you connect with people who have common interests, and your posts will also position you as a professional expert in your field.
Endorse your LinkedIn contacts and take every opportunity you get to say something good about others.
Follow leaders and influencers in your field to stay up to date on what’s happening. You can also follow a marketing guru or hiring manager to expand your network if you’re planning to look for a new job soon.
A few more tips to keep in mind as you network:
- Be willing to reach out to all kinds of people online, including people who are at your level as well as executives.
- Ask for advice and then be willing to pay it forward, helping others solve problems too.
In the age of social media, it might seem appealing to take the easy route and focus solely on networking online. But in-person events are important, too.
Take a look at this information from Forbes, based on a study showing the benefits of in-person networking vs. networking online:
- Building stronger, more meaningful business relationships (85%)
- Better ability to read body language and facial expressions (77%)
- Ability to bond with co-workers/clients and more social interaction (75%)
- Allows for more complex strategic thinking (49%)
- Better environment for tough, timely decision-making (44%)
- Less opportunity for unnecessary distractions (40%)
- Leads to higher-quality decision-making (39%)
- Easier to focus (38%)
- Fewer disruptions and delays (23%)
95% of people agree that better business relationships are built through face-to-face meetings. So find a networking event near you and fake it until you make it. Events where you can start networking may include:
- Job fairs
- Trade shows
- Breakfast or lunch
- Roundtable discussions
If you’re traveling for work or for vacation, research the city you’ll be visiting to see if there are any local networking events you could attend while in town.
Subscribe to relevant industry email newsletters and social media pages. They may include a roundup of networking events. Local social media sites could also be a good resource.
In the next section of this blog post, we’ll cover some tips to help you network successfully once you arrive at a networking event.
Does the idea of a formal networking event freak you out? Find a more casual event that’s geared toward mingling and informal conversations. Happy hours, for example, are more laid-back events that cater to a relaxed atmosphere.
You’ll typically find happy hours held in large cities in the late afternoon, or even virtually.
Adjust your daytime outfit so you still look professional, but a little more casual. While these events are a more casual way to make new connections, you should still keep things professional; treat higher-ups with respect and keep the conversation focused on work, your skills and trying to build a professional relationship with new people.
While sharing personal stories about your life and interests outside of work is also important, when networking, you want to have a primary focus on your professional life.
It should also go without saying, that if you’re at an event or meetup at a restaurant or bar, to treat servers with respect and tip well. Do this, first and foremost, because they’re people too, but also to give a good impression to any potential future bosses.
Pro tip: Make sure you don’t drink too much. The last thing you want is to get tipsy at a professional event. Happy hour events geared for networking often have non-alcoholic options available as well for those who prefer not to drink.
Finding a mentor is a good way to be successful with networking and making new connections. There are numerous benefits to having a mentor. You can receive encouragement, feedback, and personalized advice on how to get where you want to go. And of course, you can grow your network by leaps and bounds.
Your mentor can introduce you to people you need to know in their own network. Working with a mentor will increase your overall visibility. Your mentor will know the best networking events to attend and will provide guidance on what to say or do when you get there.
How can you find a mentor? Reach out to someone you admire. Tell them what you like about their work, and explain what you want to learn from them. Get to know your mentor, talking about lighthearted personal topics as well as asking career-focused questions.
Follow up after your first meeting and ask if you can meet again. Make sure to say thank you–and ask if you can help them with anything, too.
Another method of building relationships is to volunteer for a cause you’re passionate about. Networking through volunteering might not be your first thought–but it’s an effective way to make valuable connections, while benefiting the cause you’re working for, too.
Find a nonprofit that aligns with your passions and skills and volunteer your expertise. Maybe you’re a lifelong animal lover, and you work as a graphic designer. Your local Humane Society might love your help creating adorable graphics for their social media, or flyers to put up around town.
Once you’ve found a place to volunteer, get to know everyone you can–staff members, fellow volunteers, donors, and more. Start conversations and share about what you do currently and what you’d like to do in the future.
You don’t have to spend a lot of time volunteering. Even one Saturday afternoon a month can result in some quality connections that might hold benefits down the road.
3 Must-Know Networking Tips
You’ve made it to the networking event–here are some tips to help you make the most of it.
Bring Business Cards
Always remember to bring your business cards to a networking event. You can get business cards made online with an affordable service like Vistaprint. Include the following information:
- Your company’s logo
- Your name and title
- Your email address
- Your phone number
- Your website (optional)
- Your social media handles (optional)
- Your skills and specialties (optional)
Giving someone your business card doesn’t have to be awkward–simply say, “Hey, let’s remember to exchange contact info before we leave.” When someone goes home with your business card, they’ll be much more likely to remember meeting you. And when you have someone else’s business card, it will be easy to send them a message to follow up.
In today’s digital age, business cards can also be virtual. You can use a QR code generator to allow others to scan a virtual code on your phone while networking to your contact information.
Prepare An Elevator Pitch
In the context of networking, an elevator pitch briefly describes who you are in a professional capacity. It should be about 30 seconds to a minute long. This pitch will be your response when someone asks, “What do you do?” Make sure your elevator pitch covers things like your career history, any special skills, and what you want to do next. For example:
“My name is John Doe and I currently work as the IT specialist at ABC Company, where I keep all of our hardware running smoothly. I have a bachelor’s degree in computer science and I really enjoy anything that has to do with cybersecurity. I’m interested in learning more about jobs available in that field.”
You can use your elevator pitch both in-person and online. With a few tweaks, it may be a good fit for your LinkedIn description or a job application. If you’re presenting your elevator pitch in person, however, make sure it doesn’t sound like a canned response. You don’t want people to know that you memorized it ahead of time!
Use Body Language
Your body language is an important consideration when you attend a networking event. You want to come across as warm, friendly, and cheerful–but professional, too.
Accomplish this by starting out with a strong handshake and smile. Make eye contact with people as they talk. Stand with your legs about shoulder-width apart to seem balanced and confident.
Another helpful networking tip is to be conscious of your facial expressions. Smile and be engaged, and whatever you do, don’t yawn! You might feel a little silly, but you can practice at home in the mirror.
Remember, networking isn’t all about you. It should be mutually beneficial. Don’t take up too much time talking about yourself; let other people speak, too. Then use your body language to demonstrate that you’re listening to their industry knowledge and what they have to say.
Further Your Career
Networking is one of the best ways to foster growth and further your career. Looking for more ways to advance your career? Check out my Personal Development Plan Template. This template walks you through how to achieve your goals and optimize your success.