Networking is one of those necessary business skills that often isn’t formally taught. Back when you were in college, maybe you attended a Career Services workshop on the topic. Maybe you had a great mentor when you first entered the workforce who took the time to encourage you and introduce you to other professionals in your field.
Maybe, however, it’s just one of those buzzwords you hear and you’re not quite sure what to do about it. Or maybe you do, and you were really good at it in those “pre-COVID” days of your career but this post-pandemic era has you wondering if you’re still doing it right. Regardless of which of those statements you most closely identify with, there’s one thing that is true for all of us – we can always use a networking refresher.
What is Networking?
Let’s start this conversation by making sure we’re on the same page. Professional networking is about building mutually beneficial connections with other professionals in your field or industry. This isn’t simply about making friends who also work. These are people you can bounce ideas off of, who may have career leads when you’re searching for a new role, and who may come to you for the same.
Okay, But Do I Really Need This?
Yes. According to a recent CNBC article on the “Hidden Job Market,” nearly 60% of available jobs are never posted publicly. So how do you find them? Well, HubSpot reported that 85% of job openings are filled via networking. Other business publications share similar stats that illustrate the value of networking. From the way we uncover job openings to the way we find new clients at networking events, networking should be a tool in your kit.
Where Do I Start?
You’ve already got a network, you just may not realize it. Alumni from colleges you’ve attended, co-workers from past jobs, even your aunt’s neighbor who works in the same field as you and sat next to you at your cousin’s recent baby shower may all become part of your professional network. The key is what you do next. Knowing people is not the same as having a network. Developing relationships with these folks is the difference between “someone I know” and “someone I network with.”
In-Person and Online
Years ago (okay, decades ago) professional networking meant going to industry conferences or joining local chapters of trade associations and making an effort to attend their meetings. Networking, like everything else we do, has gone digital and that’s a good thing.
Yes, you can still tap into in-person meetings and seminars – and you should. You should also, however, get active on platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook Groups, and Discord. You should develop a professional presence online and maintain it. Extend connection invites. Engage with your professional connections’ posts. Share your wins, your insights, your questions.
Focus on Quality Over Quantity
We’re talking about relationships here, not acquaintances. You may have thousands of names between your various social media profiles, but that doesn’t mean you’ve got thousands of meaningful personal connections. People aren’t going to recommend you for a job (or share an opening with you) because you’ve got a superficial connection. They’re going to recommend you because they know you well enough to know you won’t make them look bad by suggesting them to the hiring manager. They aren’t going to hire your company for a project because your name pops up in their feed once in a while. They’re going to bring you in because they’ve seen evidence of your expertise and professionalism. You want to expand your network, sure, but focus on building relationships, not just amassing names.
Remember that job you had back in high school. Most of us know that we can’t put “Executed consumer-facing marketing at point-of-sale” just because part of our duties included putting up the “30% off” signs on the displays from time to time. Don’t try to dress up your experience or your advice. After all, technically speaking, putting out the sale signage is executing a marketing campaign at the point-of-sale but, most of us wouldn’t consider such a task on par with the strategic communications skills we may be seeking in our next new hire or agency partner. When we’re building out a professional network, we want to be real about where we’ve been, where we are, and where we hope to go.
Ready, Set, Go!
Ready to get started? Your social media networks are a great place to get the conversation going. Let’s connect on LinkedIn! You’ll find me here: Cheryl Marks Young.