The art of networking: how to build meaningful connections and advance your career
Networking is an essential skill for professionals who wish to advance their careers. By building meaningful connections, you can create opportunities for yourself and establish valuable relationships that can help you achieve your goals. Research shows that having good professional networks lead to both more job and business opportunities, much faster career advancement and a better knowledge of the industry overall.
However, networking is not always easy, and it can be intimidating for some, so in this blog, we’ll explore the best ways to build and maintain your network.
Develop a Networking Plan
Having a well-defined plan is essential for effective networking. Start by clarifying your goals and objectives. Take the time to reflect on what you hope to achieve through networking. Are you looking to find a new job that aligns with your aspirations and skills? Do you aim to establish new business partnerships to expand your professional network and opportunities? Or perhaps your focus is on expanding your knowledge and skills in your field. Identifying your goals will provide a clear direction for your networking efforts.
Once you have identified your goals, it’s time to create a list of individuals and organisations that can help you achieve them.
Suppose your goal is to find a new job. In that case, you can take a proactive approach by identifying companies you are interested in working for and reaching out to individuals who work there. Research these companies, their values, and their open positions, use platforms like LinkedIn to connect with professionals employed at these companies. Reach out to them, express your interest in their organisation, and ask for informational interviews or advice on job opportunities.
If your objective is to establish new business partnerships, attending industry events is a great way to meet potential partners. Look for conferences, trade shows, or networking events specific to your industry or niche. Engage in conversations, exchange ideas, and explore collaboration opportunities. By attending these events, you can connect with professionals who share similar interests and goals, opening up possibilities for mutually beneficial partnerships.
Networking is not just about meeting as many people as possible; it’s about meeting the right people. Be strategic and selective in the events you attend and the people you connect with.
For example, if you work in healthcare, attending a healthcare conference or joining a healthcare professional association would be more beneficial than attending a general business networking event. This would allow you to connect with individuals who have a specific interest in your field, and who can offer you valuable insights and opportunities.
Start with your existing network
When it comes to networking, your existing connections can be a great starting point. Begin by reaching out to former colleagues, classmates, or acquaintances you’ve met at events. Send a friendly message or email to catch up and see how they’re doing, let them know what you’ve been up to and ask about their professional endeavours – by keeping in touch with your existing network, you can strengthen relationships and potentially uncover new opportunities.
For example, imagine that you’re interested in applying for a new job. You could reach out to a former colleague who works at the company you’re interested in and ask for a referral or insight into the company culture. This connection could be the key to getting your foot in the door and securing an interview.
Expanding on the importance of starting with your existing network, let’s consider another example. Say you’re a freelance graphic designer looking to expand your client base. Rather than cold-emailing potential clients, you can start by reaching out to former clients, colleagues, and other professionals in your industry who you’ve worked with in the past.
Send a personalised message or email to catch up and ask if they know of any projects or opportunities that might be a good fit for your skills. By leveraging your existing network in this way, you’re not only building on established relationships, but you’re also tapping into a network that already knows and trusts your work. This can lead to more referrals, repeat business, and long-term relationships with clients.
Attend events and join professional organisations
Attending events and joining professional organisations provides a platform for building meaningful connections, as it allows you to engage in conversations with like-minded individuals who share similar interests and goals.
Joining professional organisations provides numerous advantages for networking and career advancement. These organisations often host regular meetings, workshops, and networking events, creating a continuous stream of opportunities to connect with professionals in your field. For example, if you work in marketing, you should be able to find marketing or creatives based meetups and the same if you freelance, work from home and want a change of scenery or are transitioning into a new career path.
In addition to in-person events, many professional organisations now offer virtual platforms for networking and knowledge sharing. Take advantage of online forums, webinars, and social media groups to connect with professionals from around the world. Virtual networking can be really effective (when organised well!) so just make sure that the event you’re attending has an actual agenda and enough time to get to know attendees, exchange information and make an impression.
Be genuine and helpful
Another crucial aspect of networking is to be genuine, authentic and speak mindfully. Building meaningful connections goes beyond just exchanging business cards or adding contacts on social media. It’s about developing relationships based on trust, respect, and shared interests. When networking, focus on building a genuine connection rather than solely seeking personal gain. Show a genuine interest in others, actively listen to their stories and experiences, find ways to support and uplift them and try to identify common interests.
For example, imagine that you meet someone at an event who is looking to expand their business. If you know someone who could be a potential customer or partner for them, offer to make an introduction. Remember that networking is a two-way street. It’s not just about what you can gain from others, but also what you can offer. Be willing to share your knowledge, experiences, and resources with your connections.
And don’t be afraid to dive deep while chatting! The research article published in 2022 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that people feel content and connected after having relatively deep conversations with people they had just met.
In conclusion, networking is an essential skill for professionals who want to advance their careers. By developing a networking plan, being strategic and selective, and following up and following through, you can build meaningful connections that can help you achieve your goals. Remember that networking is not just about collecting business cards, but about building relationships and adding value to others. With time and effort, you can build a strong network that can support you throughout your career.