You’ve heard it before and you’ll hear it again: Networking is the key to getting a job, building a career and sometimes even keeping a coveted position. Yet the term is still widely misunderstood.
If you hear “networking” and conjure up images of exchanging business cards, talking about yourself or asking strangers for job leads, think again. It’s 2017, and today, most experts acknowledge that networking is building solid relationships that involve exchange of communication, ideas and information from both sides.
Effective networking means creating ongoing engagements with colleagues, with those who hold positions you may aspire to, and with individuals who maintain insight into your profession – or a profession in which you may have interest.
Identifying a network
How do you put networking into play in today’s business environment? With a little creative thinking, you may realize you already have a good potential network at your fingertips. Keep in mind that the more people who know you, your skills and your background, the more opportunities there can be.
- Online groups: Resources such as LinkedIn offer simple, effective ways to get in touch with people with whom you have worked or know on a social basis. They, in turn, can introduce you to others you’d like to meet and get to know. Investing a little time in learning to use these online groups – beyond simply “connecting” – can lead to a deeper, more effective network.
- Professional groups: Almost every profession has a group, online or off, to further education and connections within the field. Many professional groups exist in an online-only environment. Become active in the ones that are best for you and your goals.
- Career groups: In many communities, groups exist with the purpose of sharing job leads and opportunities. These groups are excellent resources for learning about who is hiring in the area, and to get tips on how to improve your presence in online networking groups and professional organizations.
- Community groups: Whether it’s a neighborhood organization, church committee, volunteer organization, a hiking group or your French class, you need look no further than your local community to expand your network. Check out general business groups, such as Toastmasters and the local Better Business Bureau, too.
Putting networking into play
It’s not complicated when you remember that the best networking really isn’t all about you. If you are serious about finding potential opportunities, start by asking questions about the person with whom you are talking. Learn about their business, their background, their career path and interests. Even in social situations, a good conversation offers the ability to say, “Tell me about your company and what you do.”
You’ll learn a great deal by really listening. And chances are high that a two-way conversation will lead into an interest in what you do and what you’d like to do.
Benefits to you
As you expand your network, you’ll receive valuable career advice, gain introductions, and learn of new jobs and career opportunities – often before they are posted to public. That also allows you to come to a company through someone who could be a referral source for that company – a boon for both parties.
Developing a solid network also can open the door to start-ups, smaller companies and other organizations whose names you may not instantly recognize. A good network can offer role models, and provide advice on how to prepare for potential interviews and job opportunities. Throughout a career, developing a professional network will help you match your culture to that of the company with which you work, help improve the quality of your work and increase job satisfaction.
Benefits to employers
Networking is critical to employers as well as employees and job-seekers.
- Companies frequently fill jobs through trusted referrals, without posting the positions.
- Companies that focus on attracting the best talent know that referrals are the secrets to building a performance-driven organization.
- Employees who are referrals have longer retention periods.
- Referral employees generally are better performers.
- Employees hired through referrals often create greater engagement within the organization.
Many times, a company will not even have a role defined. But once leaders in the company meet someone who is talented and a good fit, they often will create a position. The lesson: Never underestimate meeting someone and making a great impression.
Dust off your old definition of networking, and look to meet new, interesting people from whom you can learn. The results – short-term and long-term – will be worth it.