What is networking and why is it so important?

April 29, 2021 - 17 min read

What is networking?

Why networking is important to your career development

4 networking basics and best practices

How can you become good at networking?

Become an expert networker

But if walking into a room full of strangers feels like your worst fear, you’re not alone. Despite the numerous benefits of building a professional network, many people do their best to avoid networking events. 

Even if networking seems intimidating, it doesn’t have to be hard. Making new business contacts can play a major role in your success, if you let it.

In this article, we’ll discuss what networking is, why it’s crucial for your career success, and how to network well.

What is networking?

If you want to reap the benefits of networking, it’s important to know what networking is and what it isn’t.

At its core, networking is meeting new people. However, what sets networking apart from casually meeting someone new on a night out is your intention. 

Networking often occurs in a business casual setting. This can be in the office or at a happy hour. It's where professionals connect to help each other grow in their careers. 

Supporting each other can be an introduction to someone new. It can also mean sharing professional experiences and ideas, and even working together in the future.

Using your network is one of the best ways to find a new job, career, or role at your current company. 

Thirty-one percent of job seekers find listings through professional connections. It’s clear how networking can open doors to new opportunities. Plus, building a strong professional relationship can inspire someone to hand-deliver your resume to the hiring manager’s desk.

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Many people assume that networking is only useful during a job search. But, the myriad benefits of networking go far beyond finding your next job opportunity.

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Why networking is important to your career development

There’s no denying that meeting new people can feel uncomfortable. 

Networking can contribute to your social well-being and help you develop lifelong friends. So, the professional intention and reciprocal nature of networking often throw people for a loop. 

But, building relationships can be the key to making huge strides in your career. 

Even if you aren’t looking for a job right now, networking can bring interesting and relevant opportunities your way, especially for women.

A connection may bring up a role that’s perfect for you, or they may ask for your help to pursue a passion project. When people know what you’re interested in, they can help you find opportunities that you may have otherwise missed.

According to Jobvite, 23% of people submit resumes through friends or former colleagues, so it’s obvious how important staying connected is. Building your network not only helps you find new opportunities, but it can help you secure a new role, too.

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Here are a few other ways that networking can enhance your work life.

Exchange ideas

New ideas can keep you growing professionally and trying new things. Hearing what other people are doing at their companies can also inspire you to bring new techniques or skills to your job. 

Discussing your work with new connections offers a fresh perspective. It also enhances motivation and creative thinking. 

If you’re feeling stuck on a project, a brainstorming session with someone in your network can help get the gears turning.

Meet people at various professional levels 

At work, you may not know much about your boss’s boss’s boss. 

Accessing higher-ups can be difficult in some organizations. This is where networking can introduce you to more experienced professionals. These same people may also have wisdom and career advice to share.

This presents new opportunities for mentorship and professional development. It also empowers you to share your skills.

Knowing people of various professional levels can expose you to a wider variety of meaningful connections. Once you develop a relationship with someone, you may be able to leverage their connections to get a foot in the door for a new role.

Become more confident

Professional networking is an exercise in confidence, especially for people who are shy or introverted. That’s part of why so many people avoid it. 

Networking events are actually a great place to practice your confidence. Put yourself out there and speak about what matters to you. Developing relationships helps you foster newfound confidence in your professional capabilities.

4 networking basics and best practices

Networking is personal. Forming a new relationship involves dedicating time to making connections. Finding ways that you feel comfortable getting to know someone will set you up for success.

Some people thrive at a large event, while others prefer to meet through networking apps like Shapr or LinkedIn. For some, virtual networking events can take some pressure off your first networking experience. 

Even when people quarantined at home in 2020, 6.3 million people attended virtual events on LinkedIn. This shows how powerful the drive to connect can be.

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However, you can’t just show up to a networking event and expect to magically build a strong professional network. Here are four strategies to help you focus your networking efforts.

Consider what you have to offer

Effective networking is always a two-way street. Some people may avoid networking because they’re not sure what they have to offer. 

Before you go to a networking event, consider what you can give to someone else and what you’re willing to offer. You may be eager to connect people with others in your network. But recognize ahead of time if you don't feel comfortable recommending someone you just met for a job.

Defining what you can give and your boundaries can help you feel less unsure about networking. When you feel more comfortable, it’s easier to build trust with other people, too.

Let curiosity lead the way

Forget collecting a ton of business cards. Instead of aiming to meet as many people as possible, make a goal to have a few deep and engaging conversations to learn new things.

Let curiosity be your guide. Getting people talking about what they care about can help you build a stronger connection. Ask a lot of questions and listen. 

Don’t forget to follow up afterward. When you connect on LinkedIn or reach out by email, share something interesting you learned from the person.

Set bigger goals

If you’re looking for a job, there’s no need to ask everyone if they’re hiring. 

Networking can feel sleazy if you’re only out for your own benefit. Instead, create networking goals bigger than yourself to avoid becoming intimidated or demanding.

Whether your higher goal is learning, contributing to your industry, advocating for a set of people in your field, or something else, having a higher purpose can take the focus off you. Keep that higher goal top of mind to maintain your confidence and drive.

Find common ground

Remember, everyone at a business networking event is a person, too. 

Treating everyone like their professional title can make a conversation awkward. While it may seem like that person is miles away from where you are, you might discover that you have more in common than you thought. 

Have general questions prepared to ask about people’s interests beyond their work life. Connecting over hobbies can help you create a deeper bond.

How can you become good at networking?

While the fundamentals of business networking are simple, it does take practice to be a good networker. As your network grows, your techniques for supporting your network should, too.

After all, the stronger your network is, the better you’re likely to feel about your career prospects. With 76% of people saying you need to know the right people to get ahead, the connection between your network and your net worth shows.

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With that said, LinkedIn’s research shows that 51% of people struggle to overcome their underwhelming network. That’s why you need the right skills to take your networking to the next level. 

Here are some powerful ways you can improve your networking habits.

Choose who you want to develop a relationship with

Networking is all about forming relationships, but most relationships don’t become close after one meeting. Choosing who to follow up with can help you create warmer connections.

But, don’t just choose the people with the best titles. Remember who you shared common interests with and invite them for a coffee or video chat to build the connection.

Offer opportunities to your network

When you see a job listing or an article that someone you networked with would find interesting, share it. Be proactive about sharing information and opportunities with your network, even before they ask. They may even start to reciprocate.

According to Jobvite, 66% of satisfied employees are eager to refer people in their network to work at their company. If that’s you, then sharing opportunities in your company can ensure you get to work with people you already know and like.

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Network everywhere

Find new places to meet people with intention. Attending events and striking up conversations with confidence can help build your network wherever you go. 

Whether you’re at a coffee shop, in an elevator, or in line at the grocery store, you can find a networking opportunity. Aim to discover something new and be open to connecting with new people no matter where you are.

Work on your body language

Body language plays a significant role in how we communicate and network. Shifting your body language to be more inclusive and welcoming can help make you a master networker. 

For example, instead of crossing your arms, keep your body open and your arms at your sides. This unspoken signal helps build trust and shows people you’re open to connection.

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Become an expert networker

Networking may have seemed like a necessary evil in the past. But now, you have the tools you need to create meaningful and impactful relationships everywhere you go. Practicing your networking skills can help you become more confident and help you meet new, interesting people. 

However, defining your higher purpose and goals for networking can be tricky. That’s where your BetterUp coach comes in. Sign up today to start making the most out of networking opportunities.new-world-work-cta

Published April 29, 2021

Erin Eatough, PhD

Sr. Insights Manager

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