When you are early on in your career or are still undertaking an educational program, networking events are often viewed with a sense of dread. When ‘networking’ is mentioned, the first image that comes to mind is usually of awkward, stilted conversations as you try to decipher nametags in a stuffy conference room. However, the fact of the matter is that if you want to have long-term career success, networking holds many benefits that make this possible.
Networking is particularly important in the early stages of your career, as it exposes you to career opportunities and provides you with information that can be used to help you plan out your desired career. The rise of online learning and educational programs – which are growing in popularity at a rapid pace – has brought with it a particular need for networking.
This is primarily because, in contrast to in-person educational programs where networking can often happen in a casual and unplanned manner, online learning naturally presents fewer opportunities for these sorts of interactions.
For this reason, if you are pursuing an online course of studies such as an online MBA or another related degree, finding and creating opportunities to network will be important to your career success. With that said, regardless of whether you are pursuing an in-person or online course, these business networking tips will help you to take a more intentional approach to this side of your career development.
So, if you want to improve your chances of long-term career success, keep reading!
What is networking?
Networking is typically defined as the exchange of information and ideas among a group of people with a common profession or special interest. This typically takes place in an informal social setting.
In the professional context, professionals use networking to expand their social circles, which helps them to exchange ideas and information, find out about job opportunities in their field, and increase their industry or sector awareness.
Although it is typically done during in-person social settings, such as at professional conferences or other industry events, it is increasingly done online. The rise of social media platforms and professional networking websites, such as LinkedIn, have made it easier than ever for professionals with common interests to get in contact with each other.
Why is networking so important?
As the above explanation suggests, networking is undertaken by professionals as a way of expanding their professional social circles, finding out about opportunities in their field, and keeping abreast of industry developments that are relevant to them. However, beyond this basic understanding, why is networking so essential to your long-term and short-term career success?
- Opportunities to exchange ideas: Attending networking events gives you an excellent opportunity to expose yourself to new ideas.
- Expose yourself to new opportunities: Networking events expose you to a wide variety of professional opportunities that you might not otherwise have been aware of. This can be everything from job opportunities to internships. It can also give you an opportunity to develop new business relationships and expand your client base.
- Receive career advice: Meeting with experienced or more senior professionals in your field or industry is one of the main benefits of attending networking events. Career advice and perspectives from those a few years ahead of you in their career are incredibly valuable and can be used to guide your own career.
- Mentorship opportunities: If you approach networking events with the right mindset, you might be able to develop these initial meetings into longer-term mentorship relationships. You will often find that late-career professionals are more than happy to take you under their wing and guide you in developing your own career.
- Develop self-confidence: An added benefit of attending networking events is that they can help to build your confidence when you are at an early stage of your career. Building up your network of contacts and interacting positively with professionals in your field can do a huge amount to boost your self-esteem at a vital stage of your career.
How to approach networking:
With a basic understanding of networking in mind, as well as an appreciation of why it is so important, there are a couple of mindset shifts you should make when you are approaching any networking opportunities. By keeping these in mind, you will be able to elevate your networking efforts from those slightly awkward, stilted interactions you might have experienced in the past to actions that can build meaningful business relationships.
One of these mindset shifts relates to general preparedness. As the old saying goes, if you fail to prepare, you are preparing to fail. Just as this is true of life, it is also particularly true of networking!
Preparation is crucial to networking success. Arriving at an event with an identified plan of action and strategy will go a long way to converting your networking efforts into career success. As a bonus, it might also help to reduce some of the anxiety you experience when thinking about networking events.
Some basic steps you can take to prepare to include finding out who is attending and reading up on their background, identifying individuals you want to interact with, and thinking about conversation starters. There is no need to do excessive research. However, you should do just enough to get those initial conversations started.
A second important mindset shift is to approach networking with a sense of curiosity. Approach each networking event with the understanding that this is a learning opportunity. Don’t think of networking events as something that will provide you with immediate results. Rather, think of them as opportunities to learn and grow.
A third important mindset shift is to be a listener, rather than a teller. People who are looking to use networking events to further their careers often view them as an opportunity to get their name out there and to tell relevant individuals about everything they have to offer.
While getting your name out there is certainly important, networking events are also an opportunity to learn – and an important part of learning is listening.
With that said, be both an active listener and a deep listener. Absorb as much as possible and ask lots of questions. This is a great way of building professional relationships that will help to convert your networking efforts into long-term career success.
Tips to prepare for networking:
Here are a few more specific tips that will help you plan out your networking strategies for the coming weeks and months:
- Map your goals: An important first step is to take some time to map out your career goals for the next few months and years. Ask yourself what you want to be and outline the steps you might need to take to get there. Write down some ambitious but achievable career goals, which can be broken up into longer-term and shorter-term ones. Being clear about what you want to achieve will help you get a sense of what kind of networking you need to do to achieve this.
- Identify potential networking events: With your goals in mind, the next important step is to identify the right networking events. There is a wide variety of different events and groups that can be used, including careers fairs, alumni programs, college networking events, diversity groups, and professional conferences. Platforms such as LinkedIn are a great way of finding out about these events, as is your university careers office.
- Think about business cards: Although business cards might be a little bit ‘old school’, it is always a good idea to have a few printed and ready to go in case you need to give out your contact details. You should also think about your ‘digital’ business cards, including having a website or a fully up-to-date LinkedIn profile. Physical business cards can also be used to connect to your online profiles.
- Know your elevator pitch: Although this might not actually get used in an elevator, it is nevertheless important to be able to confidently and concisely introduce yourself in a compelling and engaging way. Practice your introduction at home and run through it in your head before going to networking events. Focus on who you are, your background, any notable personal or professional achievements, and what direction you want your career to head in.
- Don’t be afraid to follow up: Perhaps the most important part of networking is what happens after the event. After all, this is when an initial introduction is solidified into a genuine professional relationship. If you have made an introduction with someone and got hold of their contact details, don’t be afraid to use these to follow up. LinkedIn messages are a nice and casual way of doing this, though it is perfectly acceptable to send an email if you have been given it. Following up can be nerve-racking, though it always gets easier once initial contact has been made!