Everyone always tells you that networking is important and that you should be doing it. But that assumption jumps way ahead and makes it seem like everyone knows how to do it, or that it’s easy to just start. We know that while networking is extremely valuable, no one is necessarily born with the skill--and it is a skill. Learning how to network takes time and practice, and there are so many ways to network. Treating it like it’s something you can just “start” is not the best mindset to approach it with. However, learning about it first and approaching networking with a growth mindset will set you up for success.
So what exactly is networking, why is it useful, and how can you network? We’ve broken it down so it’s simple to understand and easy to jump in and start honing your networking skills.
What is networking?
Networking, in the simplest sense, means connecting with other people in a professional way. It can lead to new jobs and opportunities, new clients or business, and even friendships and professional relationships. Networking might involve asking someone to coffee or lunch, speaking with them online via e-mail or LinkedIn, or even requesting to connect on LinkedIn.
Why is networking useful?
At the end of the day, learning how to network is all about expanding your inner circle. The more people you know and the more people who know you, the more people you have to vouch for you, think of you specifically for special projects, and the more places you already have your foot in the door. Networking is an essential part of any job, whether you’re happy with where you are or looking to grow in some way. It helps you to build your relationships within the given industries you work in, and learn new things. You never know whether you’ll meet someone interesting who you might be able to help, or someone who might be able to help you.
Reports from LinkedIn show that approximately 70% of people in 2016 were hired at a company where they had a connection, and 61% of professionals agree that interacting with people online regularly has bolstered their professional network and can lead to possible professional opportunities.
How can you start networking?
It doesn’t have to be scary, although it does often feel intimidating. If the thought of going to events and striking up conversation feels a little overwhelming, try asking people in another department of your company to lunch, or reaching out to someone you’ve worked with who you admire but haven’t had the opportunity to speak with. Often, the first step of networking is complimenting someone and letting them know you appreciate your work, and want to learn more about how they got where they are and what they do.
Who can you network with?
- Past clients and colleagues
- Current co-workers and colleagues
- Alumni of your alma mater
- People from community organizations you attend
- Anyone you meet and have a productive conversation with!
What are the different kinds of networking?
Going to events
Attending work events, industry events, and events that have something to do with your passions, skills, or expertise is a great way to begin networking. By going to events that are relevant to you, your job, or your career as a whole, you’re already placing yourself in a good position. You already have at least one thing in common with everyone else at the event, and that can make starting a conversation less intimidating. Many people will have the same goals that you do and will be more than happy to exchange business cards or contact information.
The reach-out method from Molly Beck
Molly Beck is the founder of Messy Bun, and spends lots of time teaching people how to network. Her method is called the “reach out” and is all about making a habit of genuinely connecting with people. In this video, she explains how to successfully network, and the four types of “reach out” she’s come up with:
- The “Re-reach Out”: Reaching out to someone you used to be close to, but with whom you have lost touch.
- The Follow-up Reach Out: Meeting someone at a conference, event, or other in-real-life excursion and contacting them to meet up or maintain a relationship after the fact.
- Borrowed Connection Reach Out: You know someone who knows someone whose career, industry, or goals align with yours - reach out and ask them to connect you.
- The Cool Reach Out: This is essentially a “cold e-mail” or reaching out to someone you happen to find online and admire, and want to start a conversation or relationship with despite not having a direct connection or not having previously met.
Watch the full video to learn about how to network if you don’t live in a large city, don’t have the time to frequently attend events, or just don’t know where to start with networking.
Joining groups on LinkedIn and discussing things online with fellow professionals
By joining professional groups on LinkedIn, you’re in the perfect situation to jump into relevant conversations that relate to your industry, job, or professional skills. You’ll meet new people, and might even have the potential to establish your expertise, credibility, or trustworthiness. Search LinkedIn for some groups you can join and give it a try. Even joining one can truly make a difference and introduce you to new ideas and people who can inspire you!
Key things to remember when networking
Be intentional and professional. Set a goal for yourself about a specific person you’d like to meet, or a specific topic you’d like to learn more about. Then find an event, a person to connect with online, or someone you know who you can reach out to in order to complete that goal. Always remember to be professional and courteous, as well as thank someone for taking the time to speak with you or pass along information.
Last but not least, the most important part of learning how to network is following up after meeting and speaking with someone, whether it’s in person or online. Following up shows that you’re grateful for their time, that you learned something, and that you’re truly interested in building a relationship. When following up, mention something specific you learned from there or something from your conversation that you really enjoyed.
If you want to learn more about how to network, you can find more tips (some of our personal favorites!) here.
Go forth with the understanding that meeting new people matters, and the confidence that you have important things to share and important things to learn from others! Happy networking.
All the best