There’s a saying in business, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”
Well, that’s not entirely true — for career advancement, you need to have education, skills, and talent to succeed in most professions. But getting that first interview, walking over that threshold, and securing a job often starts with a referral from someone who can testify for your qualifications. That’s where career networking comes in.
Career networking is like putting one foot in front of the other. Eventually, it can lead to exciting new opportunities you’ve never considered.
Career networking is meeting people in a business or social setting and exchanging information for mutual benefit. It’s a continual process. You don’t start networking because you’re looking for a job. Consider the most influential people in your community, from business executives and politicians to department heads, and entrepreneurs — the need for networking is ongoing.
Networking takes place in professional arenas: business gatherings, community groups, chambers of commerce, trade shows, volunteer projects, and political associations. You can network in social settings such as hobby clubs, the gym, church, and former classmates, too. Networking is all about connecting with people; those resources you cannot do without, at any stage of your personal or professional life. It is a valuable strategy to develop your career, because it uses people, your connections to:
- Assess your interest and skills
- Explore industries and jobs through them
- Learn about trends in specific fields
- Understand the skill sets required for every job
- Help you understand yourself and your career goals.
Almost 80% of job requirements are never advertised. The only way such opportunities are recognized and filled is through word-of-mouth, and this is where networking comes in. In other words, ‘your contacts will help reveal the hidden job market.’
And today networking primarily takes place online, especially because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Whether you’re just getting started in your career or are well-established in your job, networking is a skill you should be using regularly to broaden your influence and reputation.
People who come within the network include:
- Professional Contacts- People whom you know through work, career events, meetings and internships.
- Family/ Friends- Relatives and friends who are aware of your interests and careers.
- Education Contacts- People who have reached out from school/college, including past alumni.
- Social Networking Sites- Connecting people through social media such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.
No matter what purpose you use networking for, whether for referrals, advice or even possible job leads, there are basically 2 ways to go about it:
- By purposeful one-on-one contact through email, phone, letter, online networking sites or in-person. This method will need considerable effort from your end.
When the networking is in-person, you will have to take the initiative to make the first approach, introduce yourself, share relevant information, and ask for specific help in relation to your requirement.
When the networking is virtual, be as persistent as you can, but respect the unseen boundaries of the online space. Every online communication must be professional and to the point, the language has to be impeccable and help specific. Also, follow-up with the job query at a reasonable time of two weeks, not sooner.
- Through a career event or professional meet-up, where a large group of similar minded people or those that share a common job, are present. This is relatively easy and the exposure is immense, but following-up is equally important.
Make a Networking Game Plan
1. Write a List.
Write down a list of current contacts, potential contacts, and where they work. This exercise will help you brainstorm, and you’ll probably discover there are some people you haven’t contacted in a while. As you proceed in your career networking, write down the date you reached out, the results of that meeting, and when or if you should follow up.
2. Network With People You Already Know.
They include relatives, neighbors, former coworkers, classmates, professors, and people in your social media and contacts lists. Do all the people in your existing social circle know you’re looking for a new opportunity? Do they know what skills you have? Don’t assume they do. You have to put the word out.
Also, what do you know about them? Do you know where they work? Everyone has their web of contacts and acquaintances. Don’t forego letting others know what you’re interested in pursuing. You never know who can give you a reference.
3. Seek Out People in Your Area Of Interest.
It can be employees at a company you’re interested in or a professional organization that helps new graduates gain opportunities. It could be at a civic organization or charity. Determine if you know someone at that organization or find someone who can refer you. Use your online skills to do some research.
The Evolving Art Of Networking
1. Networking In-Person
After a year of businesses working remotely due to COVID-19, it may still be a while before many people are accessible in person. But when you do venture to in-person gatherings, be prepared:
- Dress professionally
- Be confident
- Have a practiced “elevator speech” that shares who you are, what you do, and what you’re interested in doing
- Have a business card handy (even if it’s your name, phone, and email)
- Ask for their business card to follow up later
It may seem obvious, but if you’re at an event and don’t know who to talk with, don’t shy away from talking with someone random. You may find that you have a common connection.
Career networking is an exchange of information. When meeting someone, don’t have a one-sided conversation about yourself. Convey a genuine interest in learning about their work and other interests. You might be in a position to help them connect with a new opportunity one day.
2. Seeking Informational Interviews
is an excellent way to make a meaningful and memorable connection, whether there’s a position open or not. If you meet someone who works in your area of interest, ask if there’s a convenient time to meet them at their workplace or visit virtually for a brief informational interview. Be ready to ask prepared, insightful questions. Also, do not use informational interviews to ask for a job. The purpose is to learn more about what skills and talents are needed to break into a career.
3. Networking By Phone.
When calling someone you don’t know, be specific about why you’re calling. Briefly share how you heard about them (referral or research), your interest (your elevator speech), and ask if you can follow up with an informational interview or if they can refer you to a colleague.
4. Reach Out to the Right Person.
As a general rule, it can be more effective to call a colleague at the same career level or a person who would be your supervisor. For example, trying to contact a senior executive if you’re seeking an entry-level position might not be practical. However, it doesn’t mean you couldn’t ask an executive you meet at an event for the name of an appropriate contact. It never hurts to ask.
5. Networking Online.
Due to ongoing pandemic concerns, businesses and organizations are still conducting meetings virtually, so there’s no reason why you can’t network online or on Zoom calls. You can use LinkedIn, Facebook, and other social media platforms to connect with professional groups. There, professionals share valuable advice, job openings, questions and answers, and the latest developments. They are excellent places to learn about a profession or a particular company.
6. Keep Your Expectations Reasonable.
Don’t get frustrated if you don’t get a call or email back. Some people are inundated with requests, and you don’t know what’s on another person’s plate. Don’t take it personally. Try again after a couple of weeks and mention it’s your second request. Then move on.
7. Always Follow Up.
Whether you enjoyed a brief conversation at a gathering or sat down for a valuable informational interview, it's good to follow up with an email or note thanking them for their time.
Don’t forget to follow up with your existing contacts. Remember that career networking is an ongoing process. Monster.com recommends that you email your existing connections once every quarter or so to say hello, update them on what you’re doing and ask them what’s new in their world. You don’t want only to reach out whenever you need something. Building a solid, career networking business relationship enables you to be top-of-mind for a referral, a job search, or a new opportunity.
Last but Least
Determine if you have the skills needed for the career path you want. Simplilearn’s SkillUp program offers free online courses for people just entering the job market and for those who want to move ahead in the careers they have. The online, self-paced courses are taught by industry experts. Simplilearn has more than 300 job-ready skills in data science and business analytics, project management, software development, digital marketing, and many others.