Networking allows you to connect with members of the community and build relationships with those who you might not otherwise meet or interact. This makes networking a great way to learn about job opportunities, especially since referrals are one of the most common ways people find jobs.
If you're new to networking, don't let that overwhelm you. We've got the networking who, what, where, and more right here to help you become a pro at networking in no time!
Why should you network?
Connections made through networking may be able to refer you for a job, connect you with someone of value to you in their network, or become a professional mentor. In addition to gaining access to valuable connections, networking also affords you the opportunity to help others with their needs and connections! Networking is as much about being a great connection and resource as it is about finding the connections and resources you need.
When is the best time to network?
You should always be expanding your network. You don’t have to be looking for your next job or working in a referral-based or sales type of job to network. You should already have a network in place when you need to use it. Having an established network also enables you to be a great referral partner and make mutually beneficial connections between people in your network.
Though referrals sometimes happen quickly, it could take time for a contact to get you connected with the right people. So, if you are asking your network for connections or information about open positions, start early.
What types of networking events are there?
Because networking is ultimately developing professional relationships, it can be done in many ways. The two most common are through networking events, which provide the opportunity for introductions and one-to-one meetings, which help build professional relationships. It is wise to utilize both ways and set up meetings with connections you make at events to further your professional relationships with them.
Networking events range in style from intentional meetings to unstructured, social gatherings. Structured networking meetings often have some time to mingle, but then adhere to a schedule that allows attendees to share their current business needs with the entire group, ensuring everyone is aware of how they can help. Drop-in networking events that function more similarly to a social gathering offer the opportunity to engage with business professionals and begin or continue building relationships.
Where do you network?
Communities often have lots of networking groups or opportunities. Chambers of Commerce often have both styles of networking events. Networking organizations -- like Business Network International, the world’s largest networking and business referral organization -- hold structured, weekly meetings. You can also often find local networking groups through social media or event sites.
If you have never attended a networking event, consider asking a mentor or business professional you know if you could attend one with them. Walking into a room of people you don't know who are all chatting with each other can be overwhelming, and it can be awkward to insert yourself into someone's conversation. Having someone to show you how to navigate networking events and introduce you can be really helpful.
How do you prepare to network?
Approach networking events intentionally; having a goal for each event will help you make the most of it. Before the event, determine what you’d like to get out of it and the types of connections that will help you reach that goal. Deciding how many connections you’d like to make or meetings you’d like to schedule will help you stay on track and not leave the event having only made small talk.
Plan to talk about your goal with those you will meet. Creating and practicing an elevator pitch, a brief and persuasive introduction, will help you succinctly and professionally share about the type of job that best fits your skills and interests and/or the type of connections you’d like to make. Having a few of your top professional accomplishments and strengths top of mind will help you easily recall them during conversations and demonstrate your potential benefit to a company. Need help writing your elevator pitch? Check out this !
Who is in your network?
Everyone you know is part of your network, and everyone they know is your potential network. Don’t limit your network to only business professionals by discounting those you know from social settings. They may just be the ones who know the person that’s key to your next career move.
Now that you've got the why, when, what, where, how, and who, you're ready to expand your network with valuable contacts! If you're still a little unsure about breaking the ice at a networking event, try some of simple conversation starters.