What is professional networking? (Learn and master it)
Updated 26 May 2023
Professional networking is an important part of a successful career, where you connect with others in your industry. Networking can help you learn new skills, discover opportunities and build valuable relationships. Learning more about networking can lead you to career success. In this article, we discuss what networking is, who to include in your network and what you can expect to get out of it, along with some success tips.
What is professional networking?
Professional networking is the process of building mutually beneficial relationships with other professionals. By helping you, an employer can fill their open positions. The end goal of a professional network is to find career opportunities or provide opportunities for others.
You can work on building a network online and offline. Here are a few places where networking takes place routinely:
trade and industry associations
conferences and expos
your current job
online social media sites for professionals
Related: Networking tips for job seekers
Who to include in your professional network?
The people you want in your network are those who can help you grow in your career. Your network can come from inside or outside of your company. It's good to connect with a diverse group of professionals. Consider how you can connect meaningfully with people like:
1. University professors
To teach in a relevant way, professors keep up with new trends and activities in their field. So, professors usually have insider knowledge. By maintaining your relationships with friendly professors, especially those in your field, they can act as a referee or suggest job opportunities.
2. Former classmates
College is a time to meet lifelong friends and future colleagues. With the pressure to succeed, classmates are eager to make sure their friends that can help them thrive. Stay in touch with your former classmates to build a loyal network of professionals your age.
People tend to want successful friends who can reflect positively on themselves. As you strive to grow your network, let your friends know of your career aspirations, so they can stay aware of the goals you want to achieve. This allows them to help you if they hear of an open position that might suit you. Friends can also help keep you motivated while you search for new roles or opportunities, improving your work morale.
4. Former co-workers
It's important to maintain connections with former co-workers. Leaving a positive impression on those you've worked with can aid your success. A former co-worker might possess insider knowledge and could provide you with timely updates on new opportunities. If they were part of management, they may even offer to help you look for a new job.
5. Members of professional clubs or associations
Develop relationships with people in professional associations to build your network. Associations offer helpful advice, different perspectives and an abundance of resources. Your participation provides an opportunity for you to share the knowledge you've gained throughout your career. This can also help boost your confidence in your abilities.
Keep family members as an integral part of your professional network. Even if they aren't in your industry, they may know others who are hiring. Keep your family updated on your goals, as their support might come when you need it most.
How your professional network can help your career
Your professional network can help your career in multiple ways. You might reach out to someone for advice about a project at work or hear about an opportunity for another co-worker. Here are more examples of how a professional network can help you:
1. Receive professional advice
Many professionals give advice routinely. You can benefit from those more knowledgeable than you by asking direct questions. The response you receive can aid you in addressing groups of co-workers, clients and students. Asking open-ended questions also sets you apart from those who merely ask yes-or-no questions. You can start by commenting on their qualifications.
'I see that you're excellent at speaking to large groups of people. Can you tell me how to keep the attention of my audience?'
2. Get referrals for potential clients
You might find people in your network who have a great deal of knowledge about your company and clients or even about your career. If you're at a networking event and you're speaking with a person who's had a job like yours previously, you can ask if they know of any opportunities. They may have recommendations you haven't considered.
3. Hear about job openings
Building your professional network increases your chances of progressing in your career. The people in your network can inform you of higher job openings in your field. This can help prepare you with relevant information about the company and even endorse you for the job. If you know someone in the same company, you can also ask them to help you prepare for a mock interview.
4. Find candidates for job positions
Networking with others, within and outside your profession, can help you find new talent for the company where you work. Even if your position is outside of human resources, management tends to appreciate those who aid their efforts to find suitable candidates. This can also help you build relationships with new employees, making their transition to your company more pleasant.
Related: Important workplace social skills
8 tips for professional networking success
Even if you're happy where you work, stay proactive and responsible for your professional development. Networking helps advance your career, so it's important to maintain contacts outside of your workplace to ensure you understand every available opportunity. Wherever you live or work, here's how to network successfully:
1. Foster the right outlook
Work on developing and sustaining mutually beneficial, non-exploitative professional relationships with others. If you establish your willingness to help others, people might prove less hesitant to help you when you need it. If you can provide value to someone before asking for anything in return, it helps to show your sincerity and commitment to your network.
2. Join the right groups
Networking may prove less effective if you join a small group. You want to connect with people from your profession but also those in related industries. Research networking groups in your area, attend a few and see who has the largest, varied number of people.
3. Prepare an introduction
Practice a quick introductory speech that you can give in 30 seconds. Talk about your professional background and what you can do for an employer, group or client. Then mention your name and hand out a business card. Go through the introduction with a friend to make sure it's engaging and has all the information you need.
4. Connect with the right people
Take time to review who is attending the event. Find out who is speaking and which companies they represent. If you can't tell someone's company from their name tag, do a quick, you can search for them online. By remembering small details about others in your network, you can foster more meaningful connections.
5. Participate actively
If the networking event you attend is annual, ask to address your peer group with a speech. Most events have a question section, where you can raise your hand. This allows you to get your name, face and profession known to the group.
6. Reconnect with attendees
If you've passed out business cards at an event, you've probably gotten a small stack in return. Annotate them as soon as possible to remember who you want to contact later. Focus on those who have heard your introduction speech. When you call a contact, ask if you can connect on social media. Then immediately follow up with an invite that includes a personal message to remind them of who you are.
7. Use your own time
Building a professional network can take time. Try using spare moments of the day to check in with your network on social media. If you don't have time to meet someone from your network during working hours, suggest a coffee or gym catch-up to keep each other updated.
8. Foster leadership qualities
Success takes time, but stay enthusiastic. Embrace uncomfortable situations as they arise, and remember that the members of your network are as nervous as you. Make sure to listen carefully whenever someone addresses you, and thank anyone who helps you.
Disclaimer: The model shown is for illustration purposes only, and may require additional formatting to meet accepted standards.
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