Every professional has had it drummed into them that networking is important for their career development. While that’s all well and good, the challenge is knowing how to actually identify and utilise those networks.
The most efficient way to do this is to understand the different networks and their relevance to your professional situation. Once you’ve established that, you can create a strategy that will prioritise the networks that will yield the best results for you, and also start harnessing them.
Know your networks
The first is your operational network, which is essentially anyone connected to your work. This is a network that often develops naturally, as strong working relationships are the key to getting your job done.
The second is your personal network. Primarily external, these connections are often developed through friends, personal interest groups and professional organisations. Not only do these people widen your perspective, they can also provide important mentoring or coaching, referrals, information and professional options. According to the Harvard Business Review, “these are people who help you grow”.
Lastly, there’s your strategic network. These are your ‘big picture’ contacts—both internal and external—who will help you achieve your long term goals.
Be prepared, but also generous
Now that we’ve established the types of networks there are, it’s time to start building them. This can be really daunting, especially at face-to-face events, so it’s a good idea to think about the types of contacts you want to make and also how you can help them in return. Almost everyone needs some kind of help. Think about your skills, experience and contacts – how you can use them for someone else’s benefit?
Keep an open mind
Don’t discount people. Limiting your network to only those who can help you right now is a common pitfall. By staying proactive and nurturing relationships with a wide range of people you’ll always have someone you can turn to for help – and so will they. What’s more, don’t be afraid to facilitate connections between others if you think they can help one another; people will remember that you took the the time to point them in the right direction and will likely do the same for you.
Follow up and keep in touch
A recent survey of over 2,200 chief financial officers found that “failing to keep in touch or reaching out only when you need something” is one of the biggest networking mistakes people make.ii Be strategic about who you engage with and really get to know them. Mutually beneficial relationships require an equal investment from both parties.
Whether you’re after knowledge, new contacts, mentoring or a career change, networking is a fantastic way to build an important base of personal and professional support that will undoubtedly enhance your career. The most effective business relationships are fostered over the long term, and the right time to start creating them is now.
Quick tips to get you started
Try creating (or updating) a LinkedIn account: This simple platform allows you to connect with collegues, friends, industry leaders and relevent professional groups without the pressure of a face-to-face interaction.
Increase your visibility: Showcase your expertise by writing articles on social platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook, professional publications or even your own blog.
Attend networking events: These events give you the opportunity to meet lots of people who can become valuable sources of advice, connections or mentoring opportunities.
Join professional groups: Professional associations are a great way to engage with your industry. There are also plenty of LinkedIn groups for specific professions and interests that may be worth investigating.