Everyone wants to advance his or her career, and networking can be a resourceful tool to get you there. Most people approach networking as an obligation, without understanding how lucrative it can be. Knowing the right people and building connections are priceless advantages to anyone on a job hunt, or just looking to stay ahead of the curve.
CNN reports that over 80% of today’s jobs aren’t advertised. So how are professionals on the hunt finding that dream job or advancing their career? You guessed it, by creating connections through networking and getting in the door before these job opportunities even see the light of day. Targeting well-connected professionals spreads information widely and quickly, which is at the core of networking.
Efficient networks have many advantages—think of it like a fully functional fraternity, without all of the partying and stereotypes. They build long-lasting relationships with people you might not have met otherwise. Networks come in all shapes and sizes, from online communities that can stretch across the globe to in-person gatherings and groups in your neighborhood.
Building and maintaining a solid network sounds like a no-brainer, but it takes a good understanding of how your network can impact your career or business. Here are some things you need to know about the art of networking and how to make it work for you:
Networks also help you gain access to:
- Insider information
- Diverse skill sets
- A variety of professions
According to the Harvard Business Review’s article, “How Leaders Create and Use Networks,” there are three distinct ways you can network. Depending on what you are looking for, you might need to consider how you want to approach it and how much energy you’re willing to spend before diving in.
Types of Networkers
- Operational: Builds strong working relationships with people that can directly connect you to a job or business.
- Personal: Relies on social interactions (conferences, professional clubs and associations) that create mentoring or coaching type relationships.
- Strategic: Focuses not just on career advancement but also on future goals.
You can choose to focus on one approach at a time, or go all in and attempt to juggle all three styles at once. Just remember, the more you take on, the easier it is to miss something good.
It Really Is All About Me
The idea of networking is ultimately to bridge the gap professionally, in a friendly and personal way. You want to be genuine and authentic, and not just focus on how people can help you—it’s also about helping others. But, at the same time, you have to be able to sell yourself and know when to showcase your skills.
You can do that without coming across as boastful by following these tips:
- Be able to define what you do and why, and how you make it your own.
- Share a brief anecdote about a big win you recently had, but do it with genuine passion. “People can typically tell genuine enthusiasm from blatant self-promotion.” (Jenny Powers, founder of Running With Heels, a women’s networking group in New York City.)
- It’s okay to refer people to your company website or to your LinkedIn profile so they can read testimonials about your business or service, or check out your career experiences and skills.
- Send correspondence the classic way with a handwritten letter or card. Take it a step further and use personalized stationery that includes your name, business, and contact information. The more customized and unique it is, the more likely the recipient is to keep your letter and contact you down the line.
Diversify Your Network
A network isn’t composed of just the people at your office or even others within your field. You should have a variety of connections and skill sets across industries within your circle. A diverse and widespread network can help you understand other fields and know what job opportunities may fit in your wheelhouse, no matter how far-fetched they seem.
Think about this: How many people do you know that say their degree doesn’t support their current role? Or, when asked, will tell you that they “stumbled” into their current position and would have never guessed they would be in that profession? I can think of quite a few, myself included. You don’t know what you might be really great at, or have a passion for, until you have experienced it in some way. Dipping your toes into other fields can be scary and quite intimidating, but sometimes it’s just what you needed.