Personal Growth Career and Workplace

Why You Should Start Networking

Networking has gotten a bad rep for being transactional; almost like an act done purely to get a leg up in a business opportunity or the job market. While it can’t be denied that networking does give people an advantage in a corporate setting, the benefits of having an extensive network stretch beyond just getting a good word in.

What makes a network?

Quite literally everyone you’re acquainted with makes a network. Your family, your friends, your coworkers, even the people you bump into at the gym or at the grocery store. Every person you know and meet is an opportunity to network and extend the connections that you already have.

It’s natural to assume that a network should be predominantly composed of people who are involved in your field of interest or the sector you’re working in. However, there is much to be gained from interacting with people who are involved in areas outside of your field of expertise. Interacting with many kinds of people widens your worldview and gives you the opportunity to see things from a broader perspective. Sometimes when we’re faced with a problem, we’re so used to seeing it from a single lens that we forget that there may be other ways to come to a solution. Extending your network beyond familiar circles can also open the door to more opportunities that you wouldn’t have been exposed to.

What are the benefits of networking?

1. An advantage in the job market

This isn’t to say that having an extensive network will guarantee you that fancy new job in that well-known corporation. But the power of having a good word put in shouldn’t be underestimated and having someone who can speak about you positively through referrals will certainly help.

You’ll also be able to keep a pulse on the job market. For instance, a former co-worker you still keep in touch with could let you know about the opening that was just made available in their new company.

2. Mentorship

  • Networking also provides you with a valuable avenue to learn from experienced people in your field. Whether it’s the opportunity to shadow them, receiving advice, or observing how they network and connect with other people, being able to refer to a seasoned veteran for input is invaluable as they’ve likely gone through the same experiences that you may currently be facing, thus making them the best point of reference.  

3. Pool of ideas

The more people you know, the more knowledge and information you’ll gain. Networking provides you with a platform to exchange ideas and gain insight from people who are doing the same work as you do, or even people who are completely unrelated to your field but can provide fresh insight from a different perspective.

There is also a sense of solidarity that exists when you’re able to connect to peers who share your challenges. Networking also allows you to bounce ideas off of each other and swap advice on how to overcome stumbling blocks that you might face.

How do I build a network?

Many people are apprehensive about networking for many reasons. Some see it as taking the easy way up the corporate ladder, others see it as an opportunistic bid to take advantage of other people, and some are simply not comfortable with reaching out and putting themselves out there.

Making use of the connections you have isn’t sly or sneaky. In fact, networking is a valuable skill to have. No (wo)man is an island, and sometimes you are bound to seek external help when the problem you’re facing seems insurmountable or you’ve hit a dead end.

Instead of seeing networking as opportunistic, it is best to view it as an avenue to give and receive help. Just as you wish to gain insight and aid from other people, it is only natural for you to respond in kind.

For those who are only starting out, networking can feel overwhelming and uncomfortable at first. But over time, with practice, you’ll get more accustomed to connecting with others.

Here are a few tips for networking:

  1. Demonstrate a genuine interest in people. They can sense when you are reaching out purely out of self-interest and will be less inclined to connect with you if this proves to be true. Take an interest in their ongoing projects or achievements, and if you see the opportunity, volunteer your help if you can. When you are genuine in your intention to help and connect, the receiving party will be more open to extending that same favour back to you. 

  2. Don’t reach out only when you need something. Networking is a conscious effort and one that requires upkeep. Whether it’s sending your contacts articles that they may find interesting, responding to their posts on social media platforms such as LinkedIn, or scheduling time to catch up outside of work, display to your network that you are invested in your connections with them.

  3. Do your research. Take the time to stay up-to-date with your network's projects and ventures, especially if you admire them. People are more likely to listen and respond if you've done some of the heavy lifting first. 

  4. Attend and participate in conferences or organisations. You are more likely to find people who share the same interests as you at such events, which makes it easier to talk and connect with them. After an event, you can strengthen your connection with them through social media. Don’t be afraid to drop them a quick message, something along the lines of, “Hi, this is XXX. It was nice to meet you at XXX conference yesterday.”

Contrary to popular belief, networking isn’t just an extrovert’s game. Perhaps you are better suited for one-on-one conversations in person rather than formal emails, or maybe connecting through social platforms such as LinkedIn is more your forte. There are many ways to build connections with people, and it is up to you to decide which approach best suits you.

The pandemic has put a damper on usual business, with companies seeing a fall in not profit, but also productivity and motivation within their workforce. Many people are also facing the looming threat of unemployment, as companies are forced to resort to retrenchment in order to stay afloat. Thus, it is important now more than ever to remain connected with your network of contacts and to maintain your relations with them. Whether it’s comparing notes on how best to manage teams remotely, keeping a lookout for job opportunities, or simply looking for solidarity and comfort in the midst of a global pandemic with no definite end in sight, knowing that you have a system of people to fall back on and rely on is nothing less than reassuring.    

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Written by:
Asma' Jailani