Networking is a key skill that can improve your social life and further your career. Networking not only helps open the door to career opportunities but is also a great way to meet interesting and like-minded people. With most networking starting in university, getting to grips with networking is now vital to a successful career.
In this article, we’ll ask what are the best ways to network (online and offline) and go over some of the does and don’ts when it comes to professionally connecting with others.
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What is networking?
Broadly defined, networking is the process of building and maintaining mutually beneficial professional relationships with other individuals.
While these relationships have, at their heart, a benefit to professional development, they can be both formal and informal. Oftentimes it’s a mix of the two, with a lot of professional networking happening in informal settings, both online and offline. This can be through email, LinkedIn, in-person networking events, and more.
While networking can be an intimidating experience for most people, it is very much a skill that can be learned. Through practice then, networking becomes less daunting and you will begin to grow your own personal network of contacts. Starting to network while you are at university is the best way to do this.
Why networking is important
Done well, networking will give you a competitive edge throughout your working life. It can be the difference between simply following your career path and excelling in your chosen field.
This is because being connected is linked to success, allowing you to draw upon the resources, knowledge, and skills of your network of professionals and vice versa. Networking is the tool professionals use to get connected with these people.
For students, in particular, networking is a way to build relationships with people that will enrich your professional life. Networking early in your career, even while you’re still studying, is impressive to organisations and your educators. For international students especially, building a professional network will help kickstart your career after university as well as improve your interpersonal skills.
What are the benefits of networking?
Cultivating a network of professional contacts is extremely useful when it comes time to look for a job. Studies show that most vacancies are never really posted on job websites but are, instead, found through professional networks.
Filling job vacancies can be a long and risky affair. Organisations love it, therefore, if they’re already aware of someone suited for a role through other channels.
Professionals within the same field often share advice and knowledge with each other. This knowledge can prove vital in career paths such as business or marketing. Reaching out to such people to ask for advice is a great way to start including them as part of your professional network.
Networking ensures people know you exist. While this may sound obvious, unless people in your field of study know about you, you will find fewer opportunities come your way.
Most careers require strong communication skills. Networking helps you acquire the skills that employers are looking for at the same time as building a strong network of contacts.
International students with English not as their first language will also greatly benefit from networking. Learning terminology usage and common manners of speech from professionals and educators is a great way to give yourself an edge over future competition.
Peaking to professionals not only leads to inside knowledge on job opportunities but also helps keeps you up to date with the latest information and developments within your field.
Who to network with
While it’s important to take time to relax, networking opportunities are everywhere. Making the most of these chances to connect with people can make a big difference to your career in the long term.
Here are some examples of who you can network with:
- Classmates: whether you’re still a student or you’ve entered the workforce, your classmates and former classmates are a great place to start networking. Not only will you likely form lifelong friendships, but undertaking the same course means you’ll establish like-minded contacts of a similar age.
- Friends: discussing your goals, skills, and aspirations with your friends means they understand your career direction. This can lead to them thinking of you should opportunities arise in their own chosen career fields.
- Co-workers/professionals within your chosen career: getting to know those already involved in your field helps keeps you in the know and, again, opens up more opportunities.
- Educators: professors and lecturers often keep up with professionals within the field, as well as new trends and concepts. These people are great to include in your network as they can recommend you for opportunities and recommend people to you later in your career.
- Hiring managers: Most professionals looking to further their careers will try and include hiring specialists in their network. These people are extremely useful to know and will expand your own network greatly through knowing them.
- Influential people within your field: while sometimes more difficult to engage, influential people can be highly valuable people to know professionally. Being seen to have these people in your network means others will pay attention to you and take note.
In the past, networking largely involved hand-shaking, swapping business cards. Nowadays, however, a lot of networking is done online. Nevertheless, offline networking is still vital to your career as a whole.
Despite being more nerve-wracking, offline networking has its advantages. Interacting personally means people will remember you better and communication flows more easily.
These events are typically attended by people eager to meet new people too who are interested in discussing careers and the field you’re studying.
The best ways to network offline are:
These events are formally arranged events, usually by organisations within an industry, that allow employees and other professionals to establish new relationships and share ideas. Companies such as MeetUp specialise in arranging these events and can help you spot opportunities.
Different companies will advertise their networking events in their own way. It’s worth following key companies in your field of study online then to see when and where these are happening. These will typically be on their social media pages. After the event, remember to follow up on any engagements with a courtesy email or message.
Your university itself is a great place to network. Not only can you begin building a network through your classmates, but you can also use your university career center to find other opportunities to network. These include university-hosted events relevant to your career where you can meet people in the business.
These types of social events are set up deliberately to help people expand their contact networks. These are typically a little more casual and include professionals from more than one career background. Some of these even happen in bars where people are a lot more easy-going and speak more freely.
Seminars, conferences, and speaking events will draw together like-minded professionals looking to learn and also network. You can learn a lot from these events, by hearing professionals speak with first-hand experience. You will also find the opportunity to ask questions. These events often span over 2 or 3 days so provide an opportunity to get to know people a lot better than other networking events.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Online networking has proven to be the easiest way to keep engaged with other professionals. While the internet provides a massive amount of ways to network, these are the most effective:
Networking and Linkedin go hand-in-hand. The platform has been developed to enable professionals to establish a lasting and dynamic network of useful contacts through the power of social media. These include co-workers, clients, and associates. If you’ve never used the platform before though it can, at first, be a little overwhelming.
Think of your Linkedin page as a way to establish your own brand. Using your profile, you can highlight your successes, share your insights, and comment on other professionals’ content.
The best way to get started with Linkedin is to do the following:
- Ensure your profile is complete, including a good-quality, professional photo of yourself.
- “Connect” with others you already know on the website.
- Use Linkedin groups to discuss ideas and comment on industry news. This will allow you to meet new connections.
- Create your own content to demonstrate insight and interest. This can be a short blog post, useful infographics, charts, or anything relevant to your field.
It’s important to remember Linkedin is a professional social media platform so remember to maintain etiquette throughout.
While social media began as a way for friends and family to keep connected, it’s become an invaluable tool in establishing and maintaining professional networks.
Like Linkedin, your Twitter, Facebook, and even Instagram pages are an opportunity to establish yourself and engage with like-minded individuals.
Keeping your eye on relevant hashtags is a good way to connect with others. Don’t be afraid to be vocal in the comments and express your opinion. Just remember to keep things civil and try to add something insightful and constructive to the discussion. A hot-button topic within your career field will likely draw attention from key industry experts. The comments section is therefore a great way to spot people to further network with.
Features such as Facebook Live are also great to share your views on a subject and make it easier for people to remember you.
These newer forms of social media are audio-based and are used as a speaking engagement or roundtable. People take it in turns to speak, often with hundreds or thousands of people listening. Joining relevant discussions and contributing will put you in front of the right people and give you a platform to establish yourself.
Web conferencing is now a great way to network. With the use of software like Zoom and Microsoft Teams, you can join in discussions with professionals instantly. While this can be done from your living room, it’s best to keep things professional and ensure yourself and your environment appear presentable.
While these virtual conferences often involve many people, it’s important to make yourself known. Without interrupting, you will want to give valuable comments and constructive thoughts that add to the discussion and open up dialogue further.
These events are advertised in the same way offline events are so keep your eye on networking websites and company pages.
- Develop a strategy: while there are a lot of networking opportunities, you’ll want to pick 2-3 that you focus on more than others. Once you have established a good strategy, you can increase your networking activity.
- Introduce yourself correctly: while there is nothing wrong with cold emailing or DM’ing someone, it’s important to do so professionally. Maintain good etiquette and try to keep things short.
- Network online as if you were offline: online platforms are now evolving to become more like offline interactions. Conferencing software, for example, allows people to glimpse into your home or work environment. Maintaining the same level of professionalism online, no matter what the platform ensures you are considered professional yourself.
- Be confident: easier said than done, being confident in both your online and offline engagements means you will be remembered by your associates.
Armed with this knowledge you now know what are the best ways to network online and offline. While networking can be time-consuming and put you outside of your comfort zone, the benefits of doing so are abundant.