Who knows you? You might easily think of your partner, spouse, or your closest friends. Who knows you and can help connect you to career opportunities? If you’re coming up with a very short list of names, or none at all, you’re not alone.
The word “networking” gets thrown around a lot, but it can be hard to define—especially to those who are new to the game, or ineffective in their approach. But it is critical to your career success to be able to network effectively, and to build a base of solid contacts and connections who know you and the value you can bring to potential opportunities.
Whether you’re currently and happily employed, or actively looking for a new opportunity, you will benefit from networking at any stage. If you need to brush up on your skills, or if you’re new to networking altogether, here are some tips for effectively making the most out of any networking opportunity:
- Establish Relationships: Networking means using personal, professional, academic, or sometimes familial contacts to help find a job, advance your career, or expand your industry knowledge. According to a survey cited by LinkedIn, 70 percent of people in 2016 were hired at a company where they had a connection; 80 percent of professionals consider professional networking to be important to career success; and 61 percent of professionals agree that regular online interaction with their professional network can lead to possible job opportunities.
Most people think that networking supports the old adage, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” The truth in networking is closer to something like, “It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you.” And if you want more influential people to know you, then you need to get out there.
That means making contact and establishing relationships with past and present co-workers, bosses, friends with similar interests, colleagues from business associations, fellow college alumni, and people you’ve met via online networking services or through professional social networks like LinkedIn. Remember that your networking contacts can help with more than just job leads, they can also provide referrals or tips on opportunities you might not otherwise know about. People in your network can offer advice on where to look for jobs or can review your resume and help you prepare for interviews.
- Keep Connections Strong: Be careful not to make the mistake of only paying attention to your contacts when trouble strikes and you’re desperate. Whether it’s a quick phone call or text, or even a card sent in the mail, make sure you’re checking in. Don’t let people forget about you. Also, look for ways to help your contacts. Effective networking is a two-way street: If you expect people to help you, then reciprocating that spirit of support and assistance is absolutely vital.
- Don’t Lose Track: You always want to keep track of your network. Make sure you know where they work, and how to get in touch, what they’re up to or what life events might be going on to make sure you’re reaching out at appropriate times. Online sources like LinkedIn, college alumni listings, along with social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram make this easier than ever.
- Attend Networking Events: Online networking has its value, but networking in person remains the most powerful way to make a lasting, quality impression. Face-to-face is the strongest form of communication, because you get the whole picture, from body language, tone of voice, a sense of professionalism, to the information being conveyed itself. People will remember you more easily if you’ve stood in front of them and established a personal connection.
Networking, in the end, comes down to widening the pool of people available and ready to help you. Remember, it’s not who you know, it’s who knows you. And they can only get to know you if you’re committed to stepping out of your comfort zone and growing your professional network.