Nowadays, there are more opportunities in the world than ever before. Whether it be job opportunities, an exciting once-in-a-lifetime event, or a meeting with someone who could change your life, there are tons of different things that you can leverage to move ahead in life. That being said, there are also more people fighting for these opportunities than ever before.
How can you stand out among the crowd and set yourself apart? One crucial way is through networking.
This post will answer the question of “what is networking” and also show you how to properly network to build lifelong connections and also expose yourself to more opportunities to take advantage of.
What is Networking and What Does Networking Mean?
Put simply, networking means meeting new people and exchanging ideas with them. Not to be confused with computer networking, professional networking often takes place in informal settings.
Networking can happen at certain industry-wide events, in your office, or even in a diner. Of course, you can also employ a more formal route and network over email, LinkedIn, or some other established method.
If the thought of meeting with strangers and putting yourself out there makes you sick to the stomach, you're not alone. Many people have a fear of meeting new people and prefer to stick within their comfort zone. That being said, networking doesn't have to be entirely about leveraging opportunities and can instead be about making real connections with people. Who knows, maybe one of the people you connect with ends up being a long-time friend.
Plus, networking is more important than you think.
The Importance of Networking
According to some reports, over 70% of all jobs aren't publicly listed. Often referred to as the hidden job market, this implies that the everyday person will not have access to these jobs if they just decide to apply online or go through public routes.
Most jobs on the hidden job market are made available to the hirer's connections and sent privately to people in the “inner circle.”
Networking is important because it allows you to get a foot in the door and know more people so that if an opportunity arises, it will be made available to you.
Beyond just getting jobs, networking also allows you to meet new people. Oftentimes the people you meet while networking are high-achievers and will be able to help you in the future in more ways than just one. A lot of people assume that networking is only useful during a job search, but this couldn't be further from the truth.
The true benefits of networking are reaped when you make it an active process and integrate networking with part of your lifestyle.
The Benefits of Networking
Beyond just landing a role, networking can have a material impact on your quality of life. Here are a few ways how:
- New Ideas – At the end of the day, networking is about the exchange of ideas. You might find that you're developing new skills or techniques because someone you networked with suggested it. Beyond that, discussing what you're doing with people removed from your work can help you gain a new perspective and put things in a new light for you.
- Confidence – Needless to say, networking is an exercise in confidence. That's why so many shy and introverted people avoid it. On the flip side of the coin, if you network a lot, you will inevitably gain the ability to project confidence and discuss ideas in a compelling way. Even if you don't gain anything from the people you're chatting with, you can rest assured that your own self-worth is going up when you network.
- Social Mobility – It can be tough to reach out to people who are “above” where you're currently at in life. Whether this is a higher-up at your current job or someone who you admire at a different firm, reaching out to them can feel scary if they're someone you consider to be “important.” Networking can introduce you to people who can make the connection for you and close the perceived gap between yourself and the person who you're trying to connect with.
How Do You Network?
Networking is subjective, and like everything subjective, there is no wrong or right way to network. Something that works for you may not work for someone else, and vice versa.
That being said, there are a few networking tips you can employ to help increase the chances of you networking successfully.
1. Be a Human
The biggest and most important thing that most people tend to forget is that networking isn't primarily about advancing your social status, it's about connecting to other people. And to connect with other people, you need to behave like a person yourself.
Too many times, people get caught up in the best questions they should ask, how to make a good impression, or how to best follow up with connections and forget that networking is, at its heart, about people.
When networking, try to remember that you yourself are a human and that the person you're chatting with is also a human. Try to view them as a potential friend instead of a potential asset and you'll have a much better shot at successfully forming a real connection.
2. Find Common Ground
In a similar vein of thought as the first tip, finding common ground with whoever you're networking with can really help break down barriers and get the conversation flowing. It can show to whoever you're networking with that you're a real person with real interests apart from the professional world.
Try to bring up your hobbies and passions and see if the opposing party reciprocates. Also, be sure to have a couple general questions ready aside from ones specifically related to work.
Connecting over common ground can help you create a deeper relationship that extends beyond the initial coffee chat/meetup.
3. Lead with Curiosity
Too many people focus exclusively on the sheer amount of people that they can meet or how many business cards they can collect. Networking is not about going one inch deep and ten feet wide. We have the internet for that.
If you want to properly network, you'll want to try and learn about the other person and truly understand them. Aim to make a few good connections instead of a ton of shallow connections.
Throw away your pre-typed-up questions and instead head into the meeting with an open mind and a little bit of curiosity. You'll be surprised at just how far you can get by asking a person about their interests and passions.
4. Look Long Term
It can feel pretty materialistic if you decide to network only when you're out to try and get something. Not only will you come across as desperate and insecure but you'll also forgo a lot of the benefits that networking long-term can get you.
When you're networking, set longer-term goals that are bigger than just getting a job or landing a role. Almost every connection you make can help you significantly down the line. Some good goals to keep in mind and try implementing are:
- You want to learn about an industry that's of interest to you.
- You want to connect with people who are above you and determine whether your current career path is right for you.
- You want to learn some more skills that will make you a greater asset to your own industry.
Keeping a long-term goal in mind can help you overcome a lot of the awkwardness that comes along with networking. Whenever there's a weird silence or you don't know what to ask, go back to that long-term goal and ponder how you can steer the conversation in the right direction to achieve it.
Bring Something to the Table
Networking is never a one-way transaction. The only reason that someone would agree to chat with you is if they feel like they have something to gain as well. So, before heading out and meeting up with someone for a networking session, consider what you have to offer and how you can help the other person achieve their goals.
The more helpful you can be to another person, the more willing they will be to help you out as well. It's really that simple. Not only will you feel more confident when coming into networking events, but you'll also build a lot more trust with people if you have something to offer.
How to Get Good at Networking
Like most things in life, networking requires practice to get good at. The first few times you meet up with someone for a coffee chat might be tense, awkward, and embarrassing, but that's perfectly alright.
Give yourself a little bit of time and you'll soon find that networking isn't that much different than chatting with friends that you already have. When you reach that stage in your networking journey, the whole world becomes your oyster and everyone is a possible connection that you can connect with and learn from.
Jeff is a current Harvard student and author of the blog Financial Pupil who is passionate about learning, living, and sharing all things personal finance-related. He has experience working in the financial industry and enjoys the pursuit of financial freedom. Outside of blogging, he loves to cook, read, and golf in his spare time.