What Is Networking?

Tips and Techniques to Help You Network Effectively

networking couple

Many career changers know that networking is something they should be doing, but they still ask – what is networking?

Anyone offering changing career advice will tell you that it is probably one of the most valuable tools in your career planning strategy.

A simple definition of networking is:

'a process where you develop long term relationships with others for mutual benefit.'

So let's be clear from the outset. It is not about finding a quick fix to your career change and job search problems. Networking is about building relationships, not just filling an address book with as many names and numbers as possible.

It is a two-way process where you make contacts that may be beneficial to you, but where you also offer information and assistance in return. Do not expect to get the magic answer to your career change questions at a single meeting.

Networking should become a lifelong habit that you use throughout your career - and it can be relevant and useful outside of work too!

What is networking?
How can it help you?

So what are the benefits of networking? It can serve many purposes, including enabling you to:

  • Research career ideas
  • Identify new possible career paths
  • Understand more about particular occupational areas
  • Learn from the experience of others
  • Build up a team of people who can support you in the career change process
  • Identify particular people who can act as mentor for you
  • Find out about jobs and other opportunities that may not be advertised
  • Create a pool of relevant contacts who know, trust and respect you
  • Explore or market self employed business opportunities you are developing
  • Develop your soft skills eg communication, listening

For anyone considering a job change, career networking can be invaluable whether you are at the early exploratory stages or at the point of seeking specific job opportunities.

What is networking?
When and where can you do it?

Well actually, as the advert said, anytime, anyplace, anywhere!

But having said that, there are two approaches that are particularly relevant to career changers.

Both of these can just happen informally or they may be set up intentionally by you.

Networking know how suggests that you should develop a mindset that where you take advantage of casual meetings that happen unexpectedly. You never know when you might meet someone who could give you just the lead you need to move the career change process forward.

At the same time, you should also have a more planned networking strategy where you actively seek out opportunities to meet with people who may be able to help.

What is networking?
How to develop your strategy

  • Have a clear purpose to your networking. Who do you want to meet, what do you want to learn & why? Research where you are likely to meet people who could help you.
  • Reflect on what you have got to give. Who & what do you know that may help others? Remember that networking is about mutual benefits.
  • Set yourself targets of a set number of new contacts you will make each week or month. Write a networking letter to arrange informational interviews with some of your new contacts. You should also plan regular follow-ups with existing contacts.
  • Create a networking business card that will promote you effectively.
  • Keep accurate records of your contacts. Not just name, phone and email address but details of where you met them, what is relevant about them for you, how they might help, what you offered to do for them and when
    you last contacted them.

What is networking?
What are the key skills needed?

There are many skills that will make you an effective networker. If you have done the skills assessment exercises on this site, you may have realised that you have some of them already. Here are some of the most important ones:

  • Listening skills
  • Awareness of body language
  • Able to present yourself positively
  • Good questioning
  • Conversational skills
  • Able to build rapport
  • Genuine interest in others
  • Willingness to offer help as well as seek it out
  • Ability to adapt your approach according to the person and situation
  • Confidence without arrogance
  • Willingness to push yourself out of your comfort zone
  • Readiness to practise networking skills and to learn from your own mistakes as you go

If you think of yourself as an introvert (or the simple personality test on this site has suggested this) or you feel awkward talking to strangers, don’t panic. Networking is not just for the extroverts amongst us. You may prefer to do more 1-1 networking or when in groups, focus your attention on asking questions to get others talking first.

At the same time, remember that networking is a great opportunity for you to develop, so try to push the boundaries of your comfort zone by taking small but manageable risks with your networking from time to time.

So what is networking? It's great tool for career changers and job seekers so make sure you use it to your best advantage!

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