Networking has gotten a bad rep for being transactional, almost like an act done to get a leg up in a business opportunity or the job market. At the same time, 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. Your family, friends, coworkers, and even the people you bump into at the gym or 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 predominantly be composed of people involved in your field of interest or the sector you’re working in. However, there is much to be gained from interacting with people involved in areas outside your field of expertise. Interacting with many kinds of people widens your worldview, allowing you to see things from a wider range of perspectives. Sometimes when faced with a problem, we’re so used to seeing it from a single lens that we forget there may be other ways to come to a solution. Extending your network beyond familiar circles can also open the door to many opportunities you wouldn’t have been exposed to in your familiar little bubble.
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 inform you about the opening just made available in their new company.
Networking also provides you with a valuable avenue to learn from experienced figures in your field of interest. Whether it’s the opportunity to shadow them during their job, receive advice, or observe 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 doing the same work as you do, or even people completely unrelated to your field. Still, it can provide fresh insight from a different perspective.
A sense of solidarity exists when you can connect to peers who may be experiencing the same hardships that you find yourself running into. It also allows you to bounce ideas off each other and swap advice on overcoming stumbling blocks you might have faced.
How do I build a network?
Many people are apprehensive towards 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 not comfortable with reaching out and putting themselves out there.
Making use of the connections you have isn’t sly or sneaky. 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, viewing it as an avenue to give and receive help is best. Just as you wish to gain insight and aid from others, it is only natural for you to respond kindly.
It can get overwhelming and uncomfortable for those who are only starting to branch out in their network. But you’ll get more accustomed to connecting over time after further practice and experience.
Here are a few general tips for those who are just starting:
- Demonstrate a genuine interest in the people who you are networking with. If this proves true, people can sense when you are reaching out purely out of self-interest and will be less inclined to connect with you. Take an interest in their ongoing projects or achievements; if you see the opportunity, volunteer your help if you can. When you genuinely intend to help and connect, the receiving party will be more open to extending that same favour back to you.
- Don’t reach out only when you need something. Networking is a conscious effort and one that requires upkeep. Whether sending your contacts articles, 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.
- When it comes to reaching out to people who are much more experienced than you in your field, it pays to do your research. If they are someone you admire, it only makes sense to be up to date with their projects and ventures. Open your conversation with them by mentioning certain projects or achievements that they’ve accomplished that you particularly admire so that they’ll be more willing to listen to you and respond.
- It helps to attend conferences or organisations in your field of interest. After all, you are more likely to find people who share your interests at such events, making it easier to talk and connect with them. After the event, you can strengthen your connection with them through social media. Don’t be afraid to send them a quick message, like, “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 both profit and productivity and motivation within their workforce. Many people are also facing the looming threat of unemployment, as companies are forced to resort to retrenchment 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 and motivate teams remotely, keeping a lookout for job opportunities, or simply looking for solidarity and comfort amid a global pandemic with no definite end in sight, knowing that you have a system of people to fall back on and rely on during such an event, is nothing less than reassuring.
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