What is professional networking?
Networking. It’s a term that is thrown around a lot. We wanted to really delve into it and explore how professional and business networking, connecting and socialising can aid you in progression, mentoring, climbing the career ladder and getting to the next stage of your professional life. Networking, as defined in the dictionary, is ‘interact with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts’. But what does that mean? Well, professional networking, is all about forming important connections, contacts and interactions to help you to progress. Networking does not have to be ‘professional’. Personal networking exists too. Personal networking traditionally helps an individual with expanding social circles and developing friendships. Professional networking is far more focused on what everyone does, their industry, who they know and where they are heading. The old saying ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’ is certainly relevant in the context of professional networking. And, with the advent of the internet, networking has become a lot easier too! At the click of a button and the search of a box, we can find like-minded professionals in our city, industry, company and similar roles. Professional networks like LinkedIn are fantastic in helping us to track-down those equivalent professionals in our role at different companies. Networking conducted ‘offline’ is often carried out at seminars, conferences, drinks receptions and even within the offices of larger companies. Networking is by no-means about forming connections in the wider world. Networking internally, in large companies, can be just as beneficial, if not more, at times. Getting to know your colleagues and forming valuable networks internally is very important and something that PushFar is a big advocate of.
How can you benefit from professional networking?
Now that we know what networking is, let’s explore why it’s so important for professionals to practice it. The primary benefit or professional networking is career progression. Building a network can help you to unlock opportunities more easily; whether they be job opportunities, sales opportunities or partnerships. The more professionals who you engage and interact with on a frequent basis, the wider your circle and the greater your number of prospective opportunities. Meeting with members of your professional network on a regular basis can help you to stay close to the ground and be the first in line for the opportunities that appear. We know that the jobs market is constantly clambering for the best talent and candidates for new job opportunities. We know this simply by the continual success and growth of the recruitment industry. Having a network with their ear to the ground can help a professional to find out about new roles first and apply before the competition. But networking is more than just job opportunities. You never know when you might need to seek the advice of those in a specific industry, be looking to sell your products or services into another company or simply be looking to form partnerships with another business. The more professionals on your books, the easier it will be to unlock those opportunities. Furthermore, a contact or professional colleague may not be of direct benefit or help to you but could well help someone else in your network and professional circle. Being able to connect people is just as important in both helping your own network to grow and in passing on support to others too.
Who should you be networking with?
Professional networking goes above and beyond the simple act of forming connections within your industry, city and company. While building professional networks in your own industry might seem like the most straightforward and obvious approach (and of course it has its benefits), the most effective professionals will be forming connections where an obvious link doesn’t first appear. Why? Well, because it’s far easier to form a wider network from the outset and therefore already have formed connections for when you need them. Forming connections at the point in which you ‘need’ them can often be too obvious, inconsiderate and can even appear to be desperate. Think about it, if your manager asks you to start engaging with professionals in the technology sector for the purposes of sales, it is going to be far easier to embark upon this if you already have the contacts in your address book. And, therefore, we would always encourage professionals to network and interact with others across the board. You may not realise just how useful a contact could first appear, but networking should not be too obvious. We all know that networking is important but there is a stark difference between networking and sales. Networking is about engaging, interacting, learning and forming contacts. Sales is far more based on, well, selling something. Never ‘use’ anyone. This is very different from networking. Play fair and always be willing to offer assistance and help, even if you feel you’re not getting anything in return. Networking must be mutually beneficial for it to really work.
Where can you go to network?
There are several ways in which you can network and the locations, venues, events and spaces on and offline in which to do this vary hugely. Below are a few suggested starting points for the best professional networking-
- Networking Meet-up Groups
Networking events and receptions are an obvious place to start. These are designed to help people to connect, meet new professionals and expand opportunities. It’s now easier than ever to find professional networking events, with Eventbrite, Meetups and Facebook Events, a quick industry search will bring up lots of prospective events in your town or city. Explore what’s out there, go along and be open minded. Take business cards but don’t force them upon people. See the section below to find out more about the best way to go about networking at events.
- Online Professional Networks
There are a number of these in existence and they can be a terrific way to find out who else works in your industry, town and city and also in finding out who works outside those circles but is open to networking. LinkedIn, Opportunity, BranchOut and Angel List are but a few in existence. Sign-up, create a profile and start sending messages. Don’t forget to register your interest for PushFar too – part of our platform offering is professional networking.
Just like networking meet-ups and drinks receptions, conferences and seminars are very popular and there are lots of them out there! Again, Meetup and Eventbrite are brilliant websites to find events like these nearby to you. If you work for a larger organisation, then the chances are that they will be running events too – be sure to check these out and bring a colleague or two along too.
You may have thought that the days of web forums were long gone. But, surprisingly, or perhaps not if you start to explore the benefits of them, they are still highly active. There are a vast number of active forums on the internet which specialise in industries, jobs, companies and cities. Get signed-up and start posting on forums to find others who you might be interested in connecting with.
How should you network?
There is no one, single, correct way in which you should go about professional networking. We always recommend being open-minded, friendly and engaged with the people you are speaking to – whether it be at events, seminars, conferences or online. Speak to as many people as you can – but don’t rush a conversation either. Show interest in the people who you are speaking to. Ask them more about what they do, the company they work for, what they enjoy about their role and what their career progression and next-steps look like. Showing genuine interest is a great way to break down barriers and can help you to explore where prospective professional opportunities – be it either to help them or to help you- may lie. It may be that they are looking for a new role in a company you work for, where a position is available! You never know and asking is a good way to discover more about the world both inside and outside your industry. Ask about the company culture in the company the individual is working for. When introducing yourself to someone at an event, first introduce yourself with your name and your job and then ask what the individual (or individuals) you are speaking with do for work. Try not to interrupt an existing conversation. At events and seminars, it’s often relatively easy to find individuals who aren’t engaging with or in conversation with someone else. Walking up to them and starting a conversation is far easier than trying to engage with a group of professionals already in dialogue. If there isn’t someone obviously available for a conversation, try to gently break into a conversation between three or four individuals. Interrupting a 1-to-1 dialogue is not recommended, unless both individuals seem to be looking around the room and open to widening the exchange. The reason that 1-to-1 conversations are not good to interrupt is that they may well be private or focused conversations.
When should you use business cards?
Business cards are great, but they shouldn’t be thrown around. Don’t jump into a conversation with a business card. Get to know someone first, form a conversation and at the end, if it feels appropriate, offer a business card and politely ask if they have one too. If they don’t then make the recommendation for them to email you. A business card should contain your email, website and mobile number. Don’t give away your business cards if you genuinely cannot see any follow-up or opportunities – there simply isn’t any point. Opportunities might not at first be obvious though, so where there may be longer term opportunities for either party, it’s always worth the exchange of contact details. Forgotten your business cards? No problem – with the wonders of technology and the invention of the smartphone, you can exchange cards virtually or connect via LinkedIn, if you’re both there. Otherwise, why not send an email straightaway, while at the event.
How can PushFar help?
PushFar is a professional career progression, mentoring and networking platform launching early in 2019. The platform offers an intelligent array of tools and solutions to help individuals and businesses with career progression, mentor matching and professional networking too. You can pre-register already. Click here
to sign up your interest and we’ll let you know as soon as we launch!