A few weeks ago, I was chatting with my friend Amanda, my long-time cycling buddy. Amanda had gone to Columbia undergrad, Harvard grad school. She was smart about a lot of things. So when she started talking about networking, my ears perked up. She said that she was in the process of connecting one of her business colleagues with someone that she met and liked at the gym. Amanda saw herself as a connector, you know the person that seems to know the who’s who in town. We talked about networking and why it’s important to use it when getting ahead in your career. What networking allows you to do and how everyone needs to nourish their contact list. She made some strong points, so much so that I felt the need to write about it. So here are seven reasons why we need to build effective networking skills.
1. Building relationships.
One of the biggest misconceptions that we have about networking is that a relationship should form spontaneously. That we shouldn’t have to work on it. It’s this preconceived notion that if you click, and like someone that you should automatically want to learn about them. Some people even think of networking as a sort of scrupulous kind of way, that makes people think that they’re using someone. The problem with this way of thinking is that you’re going to get networks of people made up of people who are just like you. What you really need is made up of a diverse group of people that can give you information and resources that you need to be effective. People that can be helpful to the rest of your networks.
2. Extend your network.
Most people have the tendency to network with people they trust and have worked for a very long time. Those relationships are very important but there are a lot of strengths in what we call “unknown” ties as well. Studies have shown that these are the connections that get you the new job. Not because the people close to you don’t want to help but because they have the same information that you do. An extended network is more important because those people are the bridge to other organizations, to other social circles that you need to have access to directly.
3. Identify your passions.
The best way to start building a professional network is to identify what you are most passionate about. “What about your industry are you most interested in?” Identify individuals who share the same passion. After you have identified those individuals, you can plan to connect with them once a week.
4. Types of networks.
When networking you have to consider these three types of networks: Operational, Personal, Strategic.
Operational network—people that we know at work that allows us to get the day’s work done.
Personal network—These are your friends and colleagues that no longer work at your organization. People that you went to school with. It’s discretionary and made up of people that you like to hang out with.
Strategic network—It’s a blend of your internal and external relationships but it’s those connections that allow you to understand what’s going on in your business or professional world. It’s a way to bring fresh ideas into the organization, to sell them to people who might not be inside your immediate group. It also allows you to find out about opportunities to help you further your career.
Understanding each of these networks and when to use them will help you connect to all different kinds of people and not just the ones that are just like you. Learning these types of networks and compartmentalizing which group to focus on at the right time will help you across departments, across companies, and people who are more senior.
5. Attend networking events.
Networking events, whether virtual or in-person, are some of the best ways to make relevant business connections. There are many professional networking groups to join that will open doorways to meeting like-minded individuals. But keep in mind that going to networking events may seem like the obvious way to build new business relationships, but there are plenty of unique ways to do this.
6. Leverage Social Media.
Social media is an effective way to get to know important contacts better and without the pressure of a face-to-face. Seek like-minded people that you would like to know better through LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and more. Try commenting on a link they post or responding to a comment they make, start a conversation with them, and offer value in return.
7. Meeting new people.
The most useful networking happens when you least expect it. Remember networking is a long game and relationships aren’t built in a day. Your network should grow as you grow. You don’t want to spend years always seeking information and advice from the same people. You want to be constantly meeting new people and bringing them into your network.
Oh, BTW, don’t forget to hit the like button!