Networking is a big buzzword and an important concept, but it’s still challenging for many people! On one hand, networking is all about making strategic connections with other people. On the other hand — in the Real World — networking includes connecting with everyone you cross paths with. It encompasses anyone who shares interest in you or your career, which means that anyone you’ve met or will meet is potentially a member of your network.
Chances are, you’re probably already networking and don’t even realize it. Isn’t that a relief?
Meeting with faculty, attending career fairs, and chatting with friends and family count as networking. You’re networking when you greet someone while walking your dog, playing pickup basketball, or getting your hair cut.
As you make plans for your future, networking will equip you with the people, information, and resources you need to succeed. Let’s look at why networking matters, plus five tips to help you get the most out of networking, even if you’re an introvert.
Is networking really necessary?
Yes! Most people get jobs by networking. In fact, 85% of jobs are filled by networking.
Networking can help you:
- Learn about careers you might not have considered
- Find a mentor
- Think of new ideas
- Connect with professionals for informational interviews
- Learn about job opportunities
- Gain confidence and make lasting friendships
Whether you’re preparing for an eventual job search or you’re in the thick of it right now, your network can be a wonderful and reassuring resource. Even casual conversations can help you develop professional relationships and open doors to new career paths.
5 tips for productive networking
Networking might sound like a chore if you’ve never done it before, but it’s surprisingly fun once you get the hang of it. All you need is an action plan. Here’s how you can network casually and professionally — and have fun while you’re doing it!
1. Start early
It’s hard building a network at the last minute. If you want others to invest in you, you need to invest in them first. That’s why you should start networking well before you think you’ll need your connections for support.
The good news is that you don’t need a resume to get started, and you don’t have to know any professionals. You can begin even if you think you have no connections and can’t imagine who would want to network with you.
The best time to start networking was yesterday, but the second-best time is right now. If you think “I don’t need to network yet,” that’s not true! Your network is a long-term investment, so even if you’re still in school right now, networking can give you a leg up.
2. Create a contacts list
When you’re networking to learn about a career, it’s smart to digitally track your network. Whether you use a notetaking app or a spreadsheet, keeping tabs on your contacts can help you gather more information.
For starters, begin by making a list of all of the people you know. Include their contact information if you have it, as well as any notes about how that contact could help you explore careers.
- Parents of friends
- Employers, both current and past
- College advisers and professors (P.S. Go to their office hours!)
- Volunteers you connected with during community service and activities
- Clubs and associations you belong to
- Religious leaders
- Professional associations relating to your interests
- Alumni organizations
- Newsletters from industries of interest
You can also add aspirational contacts to the list, too. Consider adding to the list people you want to meet or whose careers you want to learn more about.
3. Network in the right places
Networking doesn’t just happen at conferences or industry events. To network, all you need to do is put yourself in situations where you can connect with new people.
If you want to start networking, try going to family events first. Shake hands, bump elbows, and show interest in friends and family.
You can also attend career fairs. Local career fairs can connect you with professionals in a career you’re interested in. You can even speak with company representatives and recruiters about potential careers. Be sure to collect their business cards and add their information to your tracker. Make note of any people or businesses that piqued your interest so they stay on your radar. You never know where one connection might lead!
You can also network in more casual settings. Attend your friends’ meetups, chat with people at the gym, or strike up a conversation while you’re on a walk. Even if these conversations don’t lead anywhere, they still help you develop your conversation skills. By learning to show interest in others, you become more interesting, and that’s definitely a perk.
Commit to connecting with at least one new person each week, whether that’s at the grocery store, car wash, walking your dog, or going to your professor’s office hours.
4. Be yourself
By the way, you don’t have to pitch yourself when you network — and you certainly don’t have to be an extrovert. It can feel scary striking up a conversation with a new person, but everyone you know today was once a stranger, weren’t they?
Remember, networking doesn’t necessarily mean you’re asking for a job or pitching yourself. It’s all about building relationships, so be yourself! Learn about the other person and, if it makes sense to the conversation, let them know about your interests. Sometimes that will lead to a professional lead, and sometimes it will lead to a new friendship. Either way, it’s a win-win situation.
Even if you’re introverted, you can focus on having deeper conversations with a smaller number of people when you network. That will help you forge stronger relationships that go beyond the surface level.
5. Network continually
Remember that developing your network is a continual process. You’re never truly “finished” with networking. Your circle should grow continually over time.
Don’t forget to follow up with the folks in your networking tracker. Relationships require multiple touchpoints, so be sure to shoot an occasional email to your contacts to stay top-of-mind.
You’ll soon expand your circle of connections, gaining information about industries, jobs, and practicing your interviewing skills!
Learn how to make strategic relationships
Networking might sound intimidating, but at its core, it’s a structured way of expanding your friend network. Networking isn’t about an immediate payoff; it’s about connecting with other people. If you want to learn about career paths and boost your soft skills, networking is a great way to make valuable connections that could pay off down the road.
But networking is just one piece of the career research puzzle. If you aren’t sure what you would like to do for your career and need support on your journey, work with a career consultant. Get in touch now to chat about your career questions in a free discovery call.