The Benefits of Professional Networking
How many times have you heard how important networking is for your career and professional development? I’ll bet plenty.
The problem is, most people who recommend you network say largely the same thing: “It works, just do it!”
But, what exactly is networking and why is it so beneficial and important?
What Is Networking?
Despite what some people think, networking is not about simply “getting out there” or “selling yourself.”
Networking is about meeting and getting to know people and building long-term relationships.
While professionals typically network to form relationships with other professionals in similar or related fields, this doesn’t mean you should limit your network to strictly professional relationships.
Your network includes everyone you know, from colleagues to the members of different groups and associations to which you belong, from your friends to family members. As such, you can and should view every social engagement as an opportunity to meet and connect with new people. This is the essence of active networking.
Fortunately, if you think about networking as simply meeting and connecting with new people, the process of networking can become a lot less intimidating and a lot more fun. But, just because networking can be fun, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be professional about it.
Think of your network as an asset, and building that asset as an investment in your personal and professional development. And, as with most investments, building your network and realizing a return on your efforts will likely take time. Yes, you may meet someone tomorrow who offers you your dream job, and you shouldn’t close yourself off from that possibility. But, it’s not the norm.
Remember, networking is all about human relationships, and most relationships take nurturing over time.
That being said, networking is definitely worth the investment…
The Benefits of Networking
Statistics have indicated that around 70% of all jobs obtained in the last 10 years were the result of networking. Yes, 70%!
So, who you know can definitely make all the difference when it comes to landing a new job. But, if that’s not motivation enough for you to go out and meet new people, there are many other benefits to networking that are often overlooked:
1. Creating Opportunities
Yes, networking can help expose you to all kinds of job offers that aren’t easily found online. Just letting others know what skills and experience you possess, and that you’re looking for a job, can open doors that you may not have even known existed. But, job opportunities are just one type of opportunity that active networking helps create.
Networking can also bring opportunities that lead to speaking and writing gigs, career advancement, or taking your career in a new direction, as well as opportunities for making new friends and acquiring new knowledge, advice, support, and personal growth. And that’s just a short list.
Plus, actively networking helps keep you in the right frame of mind to be looking for opportunities, and to be ready to act on them when they arrive. Conversely, networking poorly or not at all can lead to a lack of opportunities and, sometimes, an inability to take advantage of the opportunities that do come your way.
2. Sharing Ideas and Knowledge
One of the greatest opportunities that networking provides is for the sharing of ideas and knowledge. Your network can be an excellent source of new perspectives and ideas to help you in both your career and personal life.
Whether you’re looking to change industries or careers or just want to further your knowledge of your current one, networking can be a great way to find out what’s going on in your field of interest, help you keep abreast of new technologies and industry trends, and provide a forum for you to ask for advice and feedback and learn about the business techniques of your peers. The better your network, the more knowledge is available to you. So, ask people you meet about their recent accomplishments, challenges, or about trends they see in their industries. Most people love to talk about themselves.
And, remember, networking and building relationships is a two-way street. Sharing your experience and offering helpful ideas to people in your network is a great way to build your reputation as someone who’s both knowledgeable and helpful.
3. Accessing Advice and Support
It’s more than likely that someone within your network has been where you are today. Bouncing ideas off of, and discussing challenges and opportunities with, the people in your network can open the door to invaluable suggestions and guidance.
Secondly, although we are focusing mostly on the professional benefits of networking, this doesn’t mean we should overlook the importance of the true friends we can make while networking. Having friends who understand us is extremely valuable on a psychological and emotional level. We all need someone who’s there for us – even if it’s just to listen – and networking can be a great way to broaden and strengthen one’s circle of friends.
And, again, remember to offer your support to the people in your network… The more people know you care about them, the more likely they are to care about you!
4. Improving Your Confidence
Regularly networking and pushing yourself to talk to people you don’t know can help increase your self-confidence, and improving your confidence can benefit both your personal and professional relationships.
Likewise, helping other people, whether it’s by offering your knowledge, perspective, support, or referrals, can also help you feel better about yourself. In fact, the satisfaction of knowing you’ve helped others can often make networking feel more than worthwhile in its own right.
5. Strengthening Relationships
Networking is about sharing, not taking. It’s about building trust and helping each other reach our goals.
Making friends and helping people really get to know you – your skills, values, how you think, and so on – is an important aspect of networking. We all like to do business with people we know and feel comfortable with, and being open, honest, and comfortable with yourself can go a long way towards helping others want to associate and work with you.
Regularly engaging with the people in your network and helping them find or create opportunities can not only increase your self-confidence and self-esteem, but strengthen your relationships with these people, making it much more likely they’ll be there to help you when you need it.
6. Increasing Your Profile
Now, to be sure, a big part of networking is simply “getting out there” and being noticed and it’s essential in career building. By regularly attending business and social events, people will come to recognize and remember you. And, if you approach your networking with the goal of helping others as opposed to looking for how they can help you, you’ll establish a reputation as being someone who’s reliable, knowledgeable, and helpful.
But, more than this, the people you associate with can have a profound impact on your life. This is the reason so many parents are concerned with the friends their children keep. The same principle works when it comes to surrounding yourself with people whose habits and attitudes push you to become better. In other words, increasing your profile is about more than just gaining visibility. Our personalities are shaped by the people with whom we associate. Accordingly, associating with successful people and modeling them can help you improve yourself. And, what better way is there to learn from and model people than to do so up close?
Are You Ready?
So, actively networking can help you create opportunities, gain access to new knowledge and ideas, get the advice and support you need, increase your self-confidence, strengthen your relationship, increase your professional visibility and help in almost all aspects of your professional life.
But, how do you start networking?
Well, you can start by re-connecting with the people who are already in your network. Don’t think there are any? Take a look at your Rolodex or your smart-phone’s “contact list.” Each of those people is already in your network!
You can also join professional organizations in your area, attend conferences and industry events, swap consulting time with other professionals, join one or more mastermind groups, and join some groups that align with your personal interests, values, and beliefs.
Every single new contact and friend you make can be worth their weight in gold. Just don’t approach networking with a “what’s in it for me” mentality… Otherwise your efforts will be less than likely to pay off.
Here are a few more networking tips:
- Let networking happen naturally… Always be ready to network, whether you’re at a professional event or your local café, but don’t try to force it.
- Ask people non-traditional questions that open up dialogue.
- Ask other people what issues they care about most and share the ideas and things that you’re most passionate about. Passion can be engaging, and it’s usually easier to talk about ideas than to talk about ourselves.
- And, follow up with the people you meet and continue the conversation!
For some people, networking comes easy. But, for most of us, it’s a skill we have to practice and learn.
Fortunately, you don’t have to be naturally gregarious to succeed at networking. Just be engaged in your conversations, listen attentively, and be prepared to provide value whenever and however you can. And, remember, much of success comes from stretching our comfort zones and learning to do new things that we may not necessarily enjoy.
And, if you want some help with your networking, consider hiring a professional career counselor or coach to help you formulate a networking plan, as well as work on and improve your interpersonal communication skills.
Networking is both an art and a science. But in the end – networking should be a fun, exciting, and rewarding approach to professional and personal development. And, when all is said and done, there’s really no excuse not to be networking. You stand to benefit from it in multiple ways no matter what stage you’re at in your career.
Betty Cohen, M.S., NCC, MCC
Serving San Francisco Bay Area, CA, and Phoenix Metro Area, AZ
Phone: (650) 868-5396