Careers advice

Boosting your career: how to network

Spoiler alert – it’s not just about handing out business cards.

There are many ways to advance your career prospects. Completing upskilling courses, taking on additional responsibilities or simply nailing your KPIs, month after month, to name just a few.

However, let’s focus on just one – networking. Done right, networking has heaps to offer your career, as well as your personal development. So how do you do it, and where can it take you?

Forging connections in your chosen industry will really pay off.

How to network successfully

Like nearly everything you’ll do in the name of professional growth, good networking is based on executing a solid plan.

Follow these steps:

1. Create a list of important people

Networking is about quality over quantity. This isn’t a competition to get the most business cards, you need to find people who have the potential to help you.

That could be anyone from industry leaders to customers you’ve already interacted with. Importantly, they don’t have to be people you’ve encountered in person – digital networking is only going to get bigger and better as we all spend more time glued to devices.

Draw up your list, rank the people in order of priority and make some notes on what they might be able to help you with.

2. Initiate contact

If this is a new networking opportunity, you’ll need to start the relationship on the right foot. Here are two common scenarios:

At networking events:

These are great – everyone attending is looking for useful connections. But there’s a knack to getting the most out of networking events:

  • Prepare: on top of who you want to talk to, know what you want to say. Practice an elevator pitch of your personal brand, highlighting your skills and personality.
  • Be approachable: hanging around the buffet table with your head down isn’t going to work. Approach a group, introduce yourself and get the conversation flowing.
  • Listen well: you’re more likely to form meaningful connections if both parties feel they got their message across.
  • Ask questions: this makes it obvious you’ve paid attention, and are interested in what the other person has to say.
  • Exchange contact details: if the conversation was useful, suggest you exchange contact details. This could be email addresses, phone numbers or business cards.

Online:

There’s a fine line between being engaging or acting creepy when it comes to online networking. However, email is a hugely effective medium for growing your professional connections. Just remember to:

  • Use a great subject line: avoid sounding spammy, but ensure you get their attention. A great example would be: “Following up on X networking event”.
  • Be personal: you’re trying to build bridges, so friendliness is key. Make sure to use their name – ‘To whom it may concern’ ticks no boxes.
  • Provide context: jog their memory by reminding them how you met. If you haven’t met, make it clear why and how you are contacting them – for example, if a colleague gave you their details.
  • Show an interest: let them know you're aware of who they are and what they do. While you don’t want to grovel, who doesn’t love a bit of well placed flattery?
  • Be concise: get to the point. After you’ve done the above, let them know why you’re reaching out.

Networking events are great opportunities to meet like-minded professionals.

3. What to talk about

What exactly you’ll say depends on who you’re talking to, and what you’re hoping to achieve. However, the following is always important:

Find a way to help them

Don’t jump straight into asking favours. Instead, see if you can help them first.

This is why being a good listener, and asking the right questions, is crucial. Discover what they’re working on, and any potential roadblocks they’ve encountered.

Even if you can’t help them personally, suggesting a contact who could will still be well received.

Be generous here – what goes around comes around when it comes to networking. If you’re willing to help others, chances are they’ll reciprocate if they can.

Consider your language

We don’t mean don’t swear (though that’s definitely a no-no) – just be careful about using too much industry jargon.

Even if it’s second nature to you, if your new contact doesn’t understand what you’re talking about, you risk alienating them.

Don’t outright ask for a job

Using networking to get a job? Patience is the name of the game.

Outright asking a new contact for a job, or for help in finding one, is a biggie, and can be very off-putting.

You need to work at the relationship before you seek favours like this, and even then be subtle. Most of the time, your contacts won’t be able to ‘get’ you a job. However they might be able to put in a good word or give you information to help with your job hunt.

Stay in touch

Today, there’s no excuse for losing touch with valuable networking contacts. We’ve all got a phone on us 24/7, and email and social media make things even easier.

While you shouldn’t pester anyone, keep the wheels turning when appropriate. For example, if you hear about a successful project they were involved in, a quick congratulatory message always goes down well.

This also means ensuring your online presence is up-to-date. If you’ve been networking with a potential future employer, make sure that if they search for your Trade Me Jobs Profile, they’ll be impressed with the results.

Today, there are no excuses for losing touch with key contacts.

How networking improves your career

Still not convinced of the benefits of networking? Well, on top of helping with job hunting, here’s a quickfire list of how it could help your career:

  • Finding new business opportunities or partnerships for your company.
  • Raising your profile and professional brand.
  • Learning new ideas and innovations.
  • Solving your professional problems.
  • Career advice.
  • Improving your confidence and soft skills.